I had a notion for a while, even before I started blogging, of doing a version of Hopkins' "Pied Beauty", illustrated with photographs. This turns out not to be an overly original idea (not that I can afford to let that stop me doing anything...). I also thought to call the blog "Brinded Cow", but found an Episcopalian (I think) minister somewhere in the States had already bagged that one.
I did stalk quite a few Normandy cows around the countryside trying to find one that had particularly cloudlike patterns on it. Normandy cows are adorable, and one of the things that makes you feel you're really in France once you cross the Channel. I noted that Polanski's "Tess" would never fool anyone who knew their European agricultural animals that it was really taking place in Hardy's Wessex, because the eponymous tragic milkmaid was working with Normandy cattle. Here they are more and more giving place to the ubiquitous black and white Holsten/Friesian dairy breed, but I think they're holding their own elsewhere.
I think now this project might finish up laboured and tedious, (and anyway, photographing a flock of finches in flight so as to show their wings to best effect proved difficult) I do keep folders of photos named for lines in the poem. "Fresh firecoal chestnut falls" was an enjoyable one to assemble and might become a post; I decided that horse chestnuts - conkers - are more photogenic, and are perhaps what GMH was referring to, but sweet chestnuts have the added connection with fire, as they suggest their own roastability, the image of them glowing freshly on the coals, and he did like to suggest more than one thing. But that one is now out of season, and will have to wait for next year.
The other line that interests me is " All trades, their gear and tackle and trim ". This is a striking departure from the Romantic/Victorian revulsion from the Industrial Revolution and its consequences, the melancholy nostalgia for a mediaeval idyll that never really was: everything from Tennyson's Arthurian wanderings, through William Morris's kindly primitive socialism and pretty curtains, to Pugin's luridness and ultimate insanity. Hopkins himself gave "trade" a bad press in "God's Grandeur" - "... all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;", but here he sees everything to do with human activity as part of the wonderful "counter, original, spare, strange" variety of the world, and the stress, literally, is on "all trades", not just the acceptably picturesque ones. Trade is the buying and selling of goods and labour, but also particular skills, the specialised work of the hands, manufacturing.
This honouring of human industry seems to echo George Herbert's elixir, that special grace that saw the workings of God in everything, and made even "drudgerie divine", which I always thought expressed the Protestant Work Ethic in its noble beginnings, before it was exploited and debased by the emergent capitalism. Hopkins also prefigures the modernist aesthetic which rejected the Victorian view that things could only really be made beautiful by decorating and disguising them, and celebrated the essential beauty in the functionality of things, which was, of course, debased too.
So, where do we stand on trade, in all its senses, now? We still retain much of the Romantics' aversion to it, and more so, and with good reason - it despoils the planet, enslaves the poor, feeds and fosters greed, envy, misery. Our increased awareness of the ecological price of of commerce and technology, and our sense of powerlessness in the face of globalisation, have intensified our gloom about it. Yet, for better or worse, it is trade, our fashioning of tools to make, adapt,repair and enhance things, and our exchanging of these things, which makes us human, and different from all other species. To travel in a great trading city, like Hongkong, where several of the photos in the first part of this piece were taken, to consider the technological changes that have taken place in just a quarter of my lifetime, even to look at our car mechanic's beautifully arranged wallboard of spanners and wrenches and keys and other widgets, fills me with wonder at the works of man. Not an unmixed feeling, and not without dread and foreboding at the possible consequences, but wonder nevertheless.