For this year’s Maryland Day Gala, faculty member Patrick Love composed music for a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins called “Pied Beauty.” For your listening pleasure, we have captured a quick recording of the faculty performing this tune. 5th grade teacher and Philosopher King, Tom Steenson, explains the story behind the song.
Heights Faculty – Pied Beauty Live (audio only)
This came about, in part, like many other good things at The Heights; the good of the boys got intertwined with the good of the faculty. And why not? More than merely practicing what we preach, we teach what we love. When we tell the boys, “this is something worth knowing; this is something worth loving,” more often than not, we are teaching something that we, too, have come to appreciate as beautiful.
Hence, when music director Patrick Love asked me for a poem to set to music for the faculty to sing, Hopkins’ Pied Beauty came immediately to mind. Having taught it for nine years in the fifth grade, I see how this poem exemplifies the reason we commit poetry to memory in the Lower School: We memorize for the sake of understanding. It is only after the poem becomes a part of each boy, as he has it in mind, and turns it over and over in his imagination – only then is he really prepared to wrestle with the poem’s meaning.
And the poem’s meaning? Let me offer two related sources of interpretation. You could listen to the beautiful word painting of Patrick Love’s composition. Or, you could ask one of my fifth-grade boys . . .
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 àll tràdes, 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: