Sunday, September 06, 2009

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.
Gerald Manley Hopkins 1918

"Whatever is fickle, freckled ..."

Gerald Manley Hopkins has, for as long as I can remember, been my favorite poet. How was I introduced to him? It certainly wasn't by my parents, true atheists both, and in my father's case, vehemently anti-Catholic and especially anti-Jesuit.

My favorite Hopkin's poem is the very short, "Pied Beauty". With its last line of, "Praise him", its purpose is clear, and so I was surprised to read in a New Yorker review of Paul Mariani's "Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life" (reviewer, Adam Kirsch) that Hopkin's praise of the world's beauty has raised concerns of pantheism.
"He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change"

Apparently Hopkins was aware of "the gulf between his artistic vision and his religious one", and regarded his poetry as self-indulgent.

I remembered "Pied Beauty" as I walked down Second Avenue to brunch, this sunny dappled Sunday. For amidst all the construction that's going on (Smile, You're on Second Avenue) , amidst the garbage, the heavy machinery and the chain fences blocking out half our neighborhood, I indulgently noticed the dappled things.

The phrase, "quality of life" has been used to death - pun intended. It has been exploited to a degree such that it means nothing. "Quality of life", "quality time" - to use a most annoying Australian-ism, "same difference".

And so while I was, as an American advertising captioner might say, "stopping to smell the roses", I couldn't help contrasting the dappled things with the trite, tepid "smell-the-roses" scenario of the CitiBank billboards of a few months ago.

Like "green", "wind-power" and "solar energy", "quality of life" is "in". One suspects that with the almost 10% unemployment figures, that advertisers are reduced to pushing something as nebulous as "quality".

"With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim"
I stop briefly in Rupert Park on 91st Street.

There are people reading books, feeding birds, watching their children play. This is a Manhattan that I, like many others, rarely stop to notice, let alone partake of.

Do these people really need to see signs like this?

Or this?

I look for more dappled things. They are everywhere.

"All things counter, original, spare, strange"
At 93rd Street I turn right, past the ice-cream parlor and right again down the driveway.

There's a man walking his dog. It's a dappled thing!

I smile. "May I take your dog's photo?" I ask. "Sure," he smiles back. A true New Yorker! "Be still Ruffles," he commands. Ruffles ignores him. A true New Yorker.

I take the photo when Ruffles is as still as he's ever going to be and thank the stranger. Like a true New Yorker.

Yep we New Yorkers don't need those CitiBank signs to tell us how to be.

Things cannot be too bad, when even an atheist can say, "Glory be to God for dappled things."

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