For Dappled Things
By Alicia Rasley
trivial, tricky, falsely weird. But… it’s also magical.
coincidence—it brings wonder.
As fiction writers, we’re told to avoid coincidence as a way
to solve the story conflict! Coincidence is too easy, too contrived, too
manipulative, too “author-intrusive.” Solving plot problems with a coincidence
means the characters don’t have to grow and change. And that’s all true!
Coincidence is bad in fiction.
However, coincidence in real life—well, it happens. And
maybe we might consider it something of a message from… the universe? Why not?
After all, it’s one of our tasks and skills of being human to discover and
create patterns, to assign meaning to what might actually be random—or at least
to marvel at the unique confluence of color and shape and happenstance that
creates a kaleidoscope image.
Maybe we should sometimes stop and gaze at that coincidence
as we would that kaleidoscopic pattern.
Here’s a coincidence—or actually kind of a cascade of coincidences—that
just happened to me. During all my years of teaching and writing, I’ve saved a
lot of… paper. Scrap paper, old assignments, handouts for workshops, articles,
and poems. Most of them are jammed into a big box under my desk, undisturbed
for years… until we got a kitten. Poppy. She’s a cute little brown-and-gray
tabby, both striped and spotted. (She’s cuter than that sounds!) She is an agent of chaos. She leaves nothing
And she likes to roll about under my desk, biting my feet.
This morning I got up to find a sheet of paper in the middle
of the bedroom floor. The nibbled corners told us Poppy had taken this from my
box and brought it upstairs to us. Well, better a piece of paper than a dead
mouse. We joked that she clearly wanted to send us a message. But what?
Turns out, this wasn’t a blank sheet, but a printout of a
BY GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded
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
With swift, slow; sweet,
sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Wow. What a … coincidence.
See, Poppy is nothing if not dappled, stippled, freckled, and goodness knows,
fickle. She’s a tabby—striped and polka-dotted and brindled. She’s a dappled
thing! And she somehow chose this poem about dappled things!
We got the message. Yeah, Poppy bites our ankles and tears
up paper napkins and steals our socks—but we should thank God and the universe
for her and other dappled imperfect and dazzling things.
Sometimes coincidence has a fancier
synonym—Synchronicity. That’s when what
seems to be just a coincidence turns out to have a wonderful quality of
coherence, resonance, meaning. And then
there’s the term “serendipity”, which brings a rosy glow of optimism and
gratitude. That’s what happened when I picked up that chewed-on page. I felt…
As soon as I read the poem title, I was transported back to
an afternoon a decade ago, when I was in London with my dear late friend Lynn
Kerstan, a Shakespeare scholar turned romance novelist. We were in Westminster
Abbey, coincidentally in the Poet’s Corner. She noticed the sunlight filtering
red and blue and green through the stained glass, and started reciting this- “Glory
be to God for dappled things.” I can still hear her low contralto, slow and
thoughtful over the lines:
For rose-moles all in stipple
upon trout that swim;
chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Does anyone write poems anymore with such careful creation of
sound—the juxtaposed words, the bumpy syllables, the syncopated alliteration,
the counterpointed rhyme scheme? All that jamming and contradicting just echoes
the “dappling”— an audial rendition of the colliding of color and shape Hopkins
thanks God for.
And—the synchronicity continues. Years later, soon after Lynn had passed away,
I was back in London among those dappled sunbeams. Remembering that Lynn sang many Evensongs in
an Anglican choir, I wandered into the Abbey for the service. That day there
was a mixed choir—children and adults in matching pristine robes. Their voices
lilted up into the late afternoon sunlight as they sang the old canticles—the
Introit and the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis.
Then the Dean of the cathedral came to the lectern for the
homily. And he started by reciting… “Glory
be to God for dappled things.”
All things counter,
original, spare, strange;
is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose
beauty is past change:
Of course the Dean used this poem to convey some lesson
about appreciating nature and diversity and tolerance—all very worthy! But I
knew what was really happening. Lynn was sending me a message through those
sunbeams and those voices and that poem.
I know. It was just a coincidence.
And coincidence really is just an accident—the accidental collision
of two events or thoughts. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. No great power is
making this confluence happen.
But… if the randomness of coincidence strikes some chord in
us—unearths a memory, manifests an image, echoes a friend’s voice—well, that’s
magic. Accidental magic, maybe. But it’s the magic of meaning.
There is nothing more human than making meaning, even of
random occurrences, even of accidents, even of the detritus of daily events. We
make quilts out of fabric scraps, we make paintings out of chance glimpses, we
make stories out of momentary feelings. We take the chaos of existence and make
order and pattern and art.
Coincidences are just accidents, but what is important is
the meaning we make of them. They’re reminders to remember, to care, to
My friend Lynn