'To What Serves Mortal Beauty?' by Gerard Manley Hopkins
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To what serves mortal beauty '—dangerous; does set danc-
ing blood—the O-seal-that-so ' feature, flung prouder form
Than Purcell tune lets tread to? ' See: it does this: keeps warm
Men's wits to the things that are; ' what good means—where a glance
Master more may than gaze, ' gaze out of countenance.
Those lovely lads once, wet-fresh ' windfalls of war's storm,
How then should Gregory, a father, ' have gleanèd else from swarm-
ed Rome? But God to a nation ' dealt that day's dear chance.
To man, that needs would worship ' block or barren stone,
Our law says: Love what are ' love's worthiest, were all known;
World's loveliest—men's selves. Self ' flashes off frame and face.
What do then? how meet beauty? ' Merely meet it; own,
Home at heart, heaven's sweet gift; ' then leave, let that alone.
Yea, wish that though, wish all, ' God's better beauty, grace.
Editor 1 Interpretation
To What Serves Mortal Beauty? - A Literary Criticism and Interpretation
Gerard Manley Hopkins was a master of his craft, a poet who could weave rich and complex imagery with startling clarity and precision. His poem, "To What Serves Mortal Beauty?" is no exception, and in this essay, we will examine its themes, structure, and language, to better understand its significance and beauty.
Context and Background
Before we delve into the poem itself, it is important to understand the context in which it was written. Hopkins was a Jesuit priest, and his poetry was deeply influenced by his religious beliefs. He believed that nature was a manifestation of God's beauty and goodness, and that the purpose of art was to reveal that beauty and goodness to the world.
"To What Serves Mortal Beauty?" was written in 1870, while Hopkins was studying theology in North Wales. It is a sonnet, a form that Hopkins frequently used in his poetry, and it is structured in the Petrarchan tradition, with an octave and a sestet.
One of the central themes of "To What Serves Mortal Beauty?" is the transience of human beauty. Hopkins begins the poem by describing the beauty of a young woman, but he quickly moves on to question its purpose. "To what serves mortal beauty?" he asks, "Dangerous; does set dancings in dumb boys' cheeks."
Hopkins is suggesting that beauty can be a dangerous and deceptive thing, that it can lead people astray and cause them to lose sight of what is truly important. He goes on to question whether beauty has any real value, or whether it is simply a fleeting illusion.
Another theme of the poem is the idea that beauty is a reflection of God's goodness. Hopkins believed that nature was a manifestation of God's beauty and goodness, and that art could reveal that beauty and goodness to the world. In "To What Serves Mortal Beauty?" he suggests that human beauty is a part of that larger cosmic beauty, and that it reflects the goodness of God.
As mentioned earlier, "To What Serves Mortal Beauty?" is a sonnet, with an octave and a sestet. The octave presents the question of the poem: to what purpose does mortal beauty serve? The sestet provides the answer, which is that beauty serves to reveal God's goodness and beauty to the world.
The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABBAABBA CDCDCD, which is typical of Petrarchan sonnets. This rhyme scheme creates a sense of unity and symmetry in the poem, which reinforces its themes of beauty and order.
Language and Imagery
Hopkins was renowned for his use of language and imagery, and "To What Serves Mortal Beauty?" is no exception. The poem is full of rich and complex imagery, which creates a vivid and powerful picture of beauty and its purpose.
One of the key images in the poem is the young woman described in the opening lines. Hopkins uses a series of metaphors to describe her beauty, comparing her to a rose, a lily, and a star. These images are all associated with natural beauty, and they reinforce Hopkins' belief that human beauty is a reflection of God's beauty in the natural world.
Another important image in the poem is that of the mirror. Hopkins suggests that beauty is like a mirror, reflecting the goodness of God back to the world. He writes, "As the gold's mingling burnish there begins/A mimic heaven." This image reinforces the idea that beauty is not an end in itself, but rather a reflection of something greater and more meaningful.
Finally, Hopkins uses a series of powerful verbs to convey the danger and transience of beauty. He writes that beauty "deceives" and "beguiles," and that it is "fraudulent" and "fleeting." These verbs create a sense of unease and uncertainty, suggesting that beauty is not always what it seems, and that it can be a dangerous and deceptive thing.
"To What Serves Mortal Beauty?" is a masterful poem, full of rich and complex imagery, and exploring powerful themes of beauty, transience, and the goodness of God. Hopkins' use of language and structure is masterful, creating a sense of unity and symmetry that reinforces the poem's themes and message.
Ultimately, "To What Serves Mortal Beauty?" is a meditation on the purpose of human beauty, and a reminder that true beauty is not an end in itself, but rather a reflection of something greater and more meaningful. Hopkins' poem is a testament to the power of poetry to reveal the beauty and goodness of the world, and to the enduring power of religious faith in our lives.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
To What Serves Mortal Beauty? A Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins, a renowned English poet, wrote the poem "To What Serves Mortal Beauty?" in 1870. The poem is a sonnet, which is a 14-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme. Hopkins was known for his unique style of poetry, which was characterized by his use of sprung rhythm and his innovative use of language. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem "To What Serves Mortal Beauty?" in detail.
The poem begins with the question, "To what serves mortal beauty?" This question sets the tone for the entire poem, as Hopkins attempts to explore the purpose of beauty in the mortal world. He goes on to describe the fleeting nature of beauty, stating that "all things are passing." This line suggests that beauty is temporary and that it will eventually fade away.
Hopkins then goes on to describe the different forms of beauty that exist in the world. He mentions the beauty of nature, such as the "bloom-blue" of the sky and the "rose-moles" on the trout's back. He also mentions the beauty of art, such as the "sweet especial scene" of a painting. These descriptions of beauty serve to illustrate the diversity of beauty in the world and the different ways in which it can be appreciated.
However, Hopkins does not stop at simply describing beauty. He goes on to question the purpose of beauty, asking, "To what serves mortal beauty?" He suggests that beauty is not simply something to be admired or appreciated, but that it serves a greater purpose. He states that beauty is "a shell" that contains something greater, something that is "more than beauty." This line suggests that beauty is a vessel for something deeper and more meaningful.
Hopkins then goes on to suggest that the purpose of beauty is to lead us to God. He states that beauty is "a ladder" that can help us climb towards the divine. He suggests that beauty is a way for us to connect with God and to experience the divine in our mortal lives. He states that beauty is "a sign" that points us towards the divine, and that it is through beauty that we can come to know God.
The poem ends with the lines, "Praise then and love, praise God and love him, that he of his grace and bounty this once granted to see, him, all his beauty." These lines serve as a call to action, urging the reader to praise and love God for the gift of beauty. They suggest that beauty is a gift from God, and that it is through beauty that we can come to know and love God.
In conclusion, "To What Serves Mortal Beauty?" is a powerful poem that explores the purpose of beauty in the mortal world. Hopkins suggests that beauty is not simply something to be admired or appreciated, but that it serves a greater purpose. He suggests that beauty is a vessel for something deeper and more meaningful, and that its purpose is to lead us to God. The poem serves as a call to action, urging the reader to praise and love God for the gift of beauty. Overall, "To What Serves Mortal Beauty?" is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that encourages us to look beyond the surface of beauty and to seek out the divine within it.
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