Week 546: Pied Beauty, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Some years ago I stayed with my family on holiday at Arthog in North Wales, just across the Mawddach estuary from Barmouth, and one of the walks we took was along the old railway track, now converted to a footpath, to Penmaenpool. The railway was opened in 1865, but fell victim to Dr Beeching in the sixties. In the old days it was evidently a treat in the area to take a picnic on the round trip: up to Harlech, then to Minfford, by the Ffestiniog line to Blaenau Ffestiniog, to Bala and back to Dolgellau. Bonneted ladies, men in light suits, excited children, picnic baskets, glimpses of the sea, seeds of willowherb drifting in through the open windows, turning and twinkling in the sun… But all the track long taken up now, grass and moss encroaching on the limestone chippings, willows leaning over, a tangle of soapwort and goldenrod and everlasting pea, and the evening quiet under cloud, only the oystercatchers calling as darkness falls.

Anyway, on a placard in the old signal-box at Penmaenpool, now converted to a bird-hide, I came across a verse which Gerard Manley Hopkins inscribed in the hotel guest book after a stay here:

 ‘Then come who pine for peace and pleasure
Away from counter, court and school,
Spend here your measure of time and treasure
And taste the joys of Penmaenpool.’

O G.M.H, I thought, what a totally undistinguished quatrain! That’s what comes of feeling obligated to say something, or being tempted by a slight vanity – because you always knew what you were worth, didn’t you, even if this particular verse doesn’t show it, and even if no one else at the time knew. So, I thought, you stood here too and watched the light change on the wooded slopes opposite, and the quiet water brimming up the estuary. I didn’t know what to say to your ghost, except glory be to God for you too, and thanks for poems as original and beautiful as this one.

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.

Gerard Manley Hopkins


2 thoughts on “Week 546: Pied Beauty, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

  1. I’m sure that at some time during your illustrious IT career you must have been based at “Beaumont, Old Windsor” (a.k.a. WSR 01). Maybe during the MSPL days of glory? Do you recall the statue of GMH in the grounds there? I wonder if it still stands.

    • No, that was one of the few ICL sites in the area I was never involved with – nearest I got to Windsor was on my seven-week induction course at Moor Hall, Cookham, back in 1966, which was really rather pleasant – good food, croquet on the lawn in the evening, earnest discussions about life, the universe and everything over a hot drink last thing at night (that was when you got a very different breed of programmer from today’s whiz-kids, including even a number of otherwise unemployable arts graduates like me). I never actually knew what went on at Beaumont, but assume it was some site reserved for VIPs like yourself…)

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