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Gerard Manley Hopkins' "God's Grandeur"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Father Gerard Manley Hopkins

Father Gerard Manley Hopkins

Introduction and Text of "God's Grandeur"

Gerard Manley Hopkins' motivation to imitate God prompts him to craft his poems in forms, as Spirit creates entities in forms—from the rocks to the human body. 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 an 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."

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

Decrying the "smudge" and "smear" from human activity, the speaker asserts that despite humankind’s penchant for defiling nature, the Creator continues to bless and restore the world.

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. He contends that whole generations of people have trampled the earth, defiling nature as they apply their systems of "trade."

Hopkins senses that people have become 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

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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.

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 continues to renew itself through the agency of the Divine. Thus, a "dearest freshness" continues to assert itself, despite the dirty ways of humankind. Humankind may disregard God's grandeur, but everything renews.

The speaker's faith leaves him no room for doubt, because that faith has infused in him the intuition that the "Holy Ghost" is always watching over humankind, the children of God, somewhat like a mother bird watches over her little flock.

The Holy Ghost will ever mother humanity—Her little birds. Hopkins' mystical insight brings him to the faith that 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 speaks gently but firmly to the inner ear of mystical poets. A poet is a word craftsman, and when the poet of genuine faith builds with words, he is imitating God, taking his discourse 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 the same as that of "God's Grandeur." The same is true for "The Lantern out of Doors," "Hurrahing in Harvest," and "As Kingfishers Catch Fire."

Hopkins 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 Thomas Hardy or A. E. Housman poem—or that of any other poet—the uniqueness of Father Hopkins is so firmly established. 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 Father Gerard Manley Hopkins is of divine origin. The ameliorist in Thomas 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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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