Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Ivory Cubicle | Pied Beauty

Well, it’s finals week, and that means that I’m buried in all sorts of schoolwork and quite lacking in time. So this week, we’ve got a little bit shorter of a post as normal, as I’d like to share one of my favorite poems with you. The author is Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Catholic priest whom you may have seen quoted in a few other columns of mine. He is known for his vivid word pictures and depictions of the natural world, and always managed to tie his marvel back to adoration of God.

He was heavily influenced by a medieval philosopher by the name of Duns Scotus. Duns Scotus was a contemporary and critic of St. Thomas of Aquinas, the Doctor of the Catholic Church who was responsible for crafting a theory of reality which fused Aristotle’s philosophy with the doctrines of Christianity. St. Thomas was fascinated with universal categories, that is, he was interested in things that were held in common by members of the same species. Duns Scotus, by contrast, preferred to focus on particularities that differentiated members of the same species. Where St. Thomas considered it essential to ask “what is the nature of man?” Duns Scotus found it more important to ask, “what is the nature of this particular, individual person?”

Gerard Manley Hopkins took Scotus’s philosopher a step further. In his poetry, he crafted a couple of terms, the inscape and the instress. For Hopkins, the inscape of a thing is that distinctive design that makes the individual thing what it is. An instress is the mark that thing leaves when a person encounters it. So where St. Thomas would ask “what is the nature of man?” and Scotus would ask “what is the nature of this particular man?” Hopkins would ask “what is the nature of this particular man and what is his impact on those around him?” That’s why poems he wrote, such as The Windhover, often contained vivid descriptions of creatures he encountered in nature as well as reflections on the impact of that encounter on him.

My favorite of his writings is a short poem he wrote entitled Pied Beauty, which I think captures his philosophy perfectly.

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 áll trádes, 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. 

Posted by Nick Barden

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