Writing Prompt 003: Funnels and Flashlights in “Pied Beauty”

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 áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim,
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckléd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise him.

— Gerard Manley Hopkins


Association: (n.) An idea, image, feeling, etc., suggested by or connected with something other than itself; and accompanying thought, emotion, or the like; an overtone or connotation.

Robert Frost said “We love things for what they are.” To me, this is the idea at the core of “Pied Beauty.” Hopkins finds a way to make the most unique and eclectic features of the world’s things feel universal without sacrificing their originality. Let’s talk about how he does this through the associative properties of image.

If I say to you: Tractor, Villagers, Cow, the image of a farm will likely spring to your mind along with many of its facets. To a great degree, you can fill out the details of this farm on your own: the barn, the old tools, all the other animals, the farmer and his hat. This is the associative part of your brain at work. You begin pouring items into a mental funnel, attempting to synthesize them into a single scene.

However, if I say to you: Pitchforks, Villagers, Fire, a whole new image may come into play. Gone is the cheerful farm that you had moments before, perhaps replaced with a mob from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Despite the fact the Pitchforks, Villagers, and Fire are all things that could just as easily be on a farm, our associative brain often leaps to the most readily available scenes that might put groups of images in context.

Funnel Method

Hopkins uses this associative method, but turns it on its head in the poem. He gives us Cow, Trout, Fresh-firecoal, things that may not be as easy to associate with images as our previous example. But he has already found the association for himself, and so he gives it to us both in the title “Pied Beauty” and again in the first line “Glory be to God for dappled things–. In this way, Hopkins reverses the associative cone and puts the whole of the world underneath it:

Reverse Funnel Conclusion Method (Flashlight Method)

He begins with simple things, things we can easily accept as Pied, such as Cows and Trout, but moves on to include Fresh-firecoal, Landscape plotted and pieced, All trades, their tackle gear and trim. This method, often called Reverse Funnel Conclusion in essay writing, allows Hopkins to focus the associative work of the poem on broadening instead of narrowing. He aims it outward, like the beam of a flashlight, instead of tossing things into it.

Prompt: Funnel and Reverse Funnel

-First, choose some disparate things you see during your day (let’s say 3–5) that don’t seem to have much in common. Think about how they are related, and try to write a short entry (a paragraph, a poem, a word-web) that links them using the funnel method.
-Second, choose one thing you like (a color, a pattern, a flavor, anything!) and work outward. Try to associate it with as many things as possible using the reverse funnel method.
-Share your creations and thoughts with us here!

— Ian Stevens, @ Owl Eyes


Read “Pied Beauty” for free with annotations on Owl Eyes.

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