Monday, 8 June 2009

Hopkins and Langland

Gerard Manley Hopkins died on this day in 1889. Pied Beauty is one of his most delightful (and accessible!) poems of praise. I was thinking of it yesterday when I posted that extract from Piers Plowman - Langland's 'foster forth' reminded me of the penultimate line of this poem. Hopkins certainly read Langland, and was partly indebted to his alliterative verse and to Anglo-Saxon poetry in the development of his own metrical system of sprung rhythm.

I was going to say that Langland would have liked this poem, but he was the ultimate perfectionist, a lover of extremes, who spent his whole life rewriting one enormous poem; it's hard to imagine him finding God in the imperfect. Except that Piers Plowman itself is one of Hopkins' 'dappled things': wordy, repetitive, sometimes muddled and self-contradictory, but illuminated with flashes of some of the most beautiful poetry ever written.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things —
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

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