Pied Beauty

How can we handle imperfection? Imperfection in others, imperfection in ourselves, that unnerving quality which prevents us from calling something fully black or white, beautiful or ugly?

Something deep in us calls for clarity. We long for clean-cut categories, for heroes and villains. That is much easier to manage. A cloudless sky or a face without wrinkles: that I can admire. A bitter pudding or a sick animal: that I can pity. So much of our effort is to get rid of imperfections, to photoshop our lives into endless grace and glamour. See, for example, how quickly a woman beautiful in her singularity can be made into an all-too-perfect doll.

What about dappled things? What about the imperfections inside myself–my vices and distortions alongside my integrity and good intentions? Do they have any place? Do we have to get rid of our limitations even if that includes getting rid of our own humanity?

Recently I came across a poem which raised these questions to me. It’s called Pied Beauty. It’s a modern psalm where Gerard Manley Hopkins extolls the worth of imperfect things. Actually, he calls for praise to God for them.

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.

I found Hopkins’s perspective refreshing. We usually complain about dappled things–and admire God for his perfection. I had never heard someone want to sing to God because of our defects and complexities, who can find reason for praise in them, out of them.


What moved me especially was finding out how personal that praise rose from Hopkins. He was attracted to other men but decided to become a priest and live a celibate life. I wonder how many times he asked for God to remove this desire from him. How easier life must have felt for those who did not have to bear this inner tension.

Yet Hopkins decides to praise God. And that makes me want to praise God all the more. Praise God for who he is and for who we are, however we may be. We don’t check our struggles at the door, we arrive to God with them. Because of them. All things spare, strange, dim–all of us, you and me–praise him.

René Breuel


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