Gerard Manley Hopkins' "God's Grandeur"

Updated on April 17, 2018
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Father Gerard Manley Hopkins

Source

Introduction and Text of "God's Grandeur"

Foolish, mendacious partisan hacks who busily push an agenda based on the claim that humanity has the power to transform an entity as big and forceful as the Earth should heed the message of this splendid little sonnet.

Humankind's power could never begin to change the climate of this marvelous God-driven orb on which we all find ourselves Love the planet, observe its gifts, keep it clean—but don't make up fantasies through which even a child blessed with enough information can see!

God's Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Reading of "God's Grandeur"

Commentary

Mystical poets, like saints, are in the world but not of it. Hopkins' "God's Grandeur" demonstrates that this poet used his craft as a means of relating to the Divine.

Petrarchan Sonnet

Gerard Manley Hopkins' motivation to imitate God prompts him to craft his poems in forms, as Spirit does. Hopkins usually employs the sonnet form. "God's Grandeur" is a sonnet—fourteen lines, more similar to the Petrarchan than the Elizabethan The first eight lines (octave) present a issue; then, the remaining six lines (sestet) address that issue.

Hopkins' rime scheme is typically ABBAABBA CDCDCD, which also resembles the Petrarchan rime scheme in the octave. Hopkins employs iambic pentameter but varies from spondee to trochee. Father Hopkins' called his unique form "sprung rhythm."

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Octave: Pantheistic View of God

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

The speaker in this Petrarchan sonnet sees God everywhere: "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." His soul is convinced, but his senses tell him that people do not behave as if this were true: "Why do men then not reck his rod?"

Not only do men not heed the Divine, they also seem content to exist in darkness from where they spread gloom on the environment: "Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; / And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; / And wears mans smudge and shares mans smell. Hopkins sees that people are more interested in materialistic gain and possessions than in celebrating the glory of a loving, merciful, heavenly Father.

The Sestet: God's Gifts Cannot Be Exhausted

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

As the octave has presented the problem: mankind is oblivious to God's gift and thus defiles them, the sestet addresses the issue: despite indifference to the Creator, humankind cannot exhaust the gifts that Creator bestows, "nature is never spent." Mankind cannot spoil the Lord's precious gifts, because "There lives the dearest freshness deep down things. Everything renews; man may disregard God's grandeur, but the sun will rise tomorrow. If the sun goes out, what bright, more glorious orb may this God offer to place in its stead!

The speaker's faith leaves him no room for doubt, when "Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs / Because the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings? The Holy Ghost will ever mother humanity—Her little birds. Hopkins' mystical insight brings him faith; it throbs in his soul—in his "inscape," his unique term for his inner landscape.

Mystical Poets and God's Creation

And "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (KJV, John 1:1). This line roars in the inner ears of mystical poets. A poet is a word craftsman, and when the poet builds with words, he is imitating God, which takes the reader out of dogma and into true spirituality. The form of "God's Grandeur" closely resembles Hopkins' other poems. In "The Windhover," the rime scheme is exactly like that of "God's Grandeur."

The same is true for "The Lantern out of Doors," "Hurrahing in Harvest," and "As Kingfishers Catch Fire." His sonnets celebrate God and continue the search for a deeper relationship with the Mastercraftsman. Occasionally, as Hopkins structures his sonnets, they produce an order that further marks a style uniquely his own.

Readers do not encounter any structure resembling, "Stirred for a birds, the achieve of, the mastery of the thing," in a Hardy or a Housman poem. Also, a typical line of Hopkins is "Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east," which contains the example of his meter and content.

Divine Melancholy

The melancholy experienced by Hopkins is of divine origin. The ameliorist in Hardy produces in his poems a different sort of melancholy. Hopkins has faith; Hardy has hope. One may deem Hardy spiritually adrift on the sea of man's woe, even when he sings, "I talk as if the things were born / With sense to work its mind; / Yet it is but one mask of many worn / By the Great Face behind."

Referring to the veiled nature of God, Hardy seems to bemoan it rather than celebrate it, as Hopkins does. Housman is preoccupied with endings. He says, "And since to look at things in bloom / Fifty springs are little room" and "sharp the link of life will snap."

Of course, all poets are concerned with endings, but each poet in his work will treat those concerns in distinctive ways. While Hardy and Housman and most poets remain earthbound looking for answers to ultimate questions among the various outlets for human intelligence, in Hopkins' "Gods Grandeur," the reader hears singing loud and sweet a poet's song of the love of the Divine.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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