God's Grandeur
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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.

Brief History of Gerard Manley Hopkins:

  • Lived from 1844 to 1889, during the time of the Industrial Revolution in England.¹
  • Studied the "classics" at Balliol College.
  • After graduating he converted to Roman Catholicism and joined the Society of Jesus (known as the Jesuits). God's influence is seen in much of his poetry.²
  • Hopkins stopped writing poetry for a while when he worried that his poetry was too self-centered and went against the principles of the Jesuit order; he even burned his own works!
  • He began to write again after reading the works of Duns Scotus. The first poem that he wrote after taking a "moral break" from poetry was entitled The Wreck of the Deutschland.¹
  • He studied theology in Northern Wales, where he fell in love with the countryside and the Welsh language which would later influence the rhythm of his poems.
  • He was first to coin the term for his new rhythm: "sprung rhythm".
  • Many of his later poems reflect his depressed mood, including "the terrible sonnets."²
  • His last words: "I'm so happy, I'm so happy."



Paraphrase

The world is filled with God’s glory, which will shine out and flare, like the brief but intense flashes of light given off by foil when one shakes it. God’s power grows and spreads everywhere. But then why do men not heed this power? Man has walked, worked, and left his mark on the world with his ideas, ruining nature. Trees are gone, in their stead buildings, and no longer does man have a connection with the earth and the ground; instead man wears shoes.

But even after all the trouble man has caused, Nature is not dead. All things still contain some of nature’s beauty. Even though the sun sets, it will come up in the morning in the East. God is still guarding over this world, even though man has strayed off the right path.

Description of Poetic Structure:³
  • "God's Grandeur" is a Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet:
    • one octave (8 lines) with end rhyme ABBAABBA. The octave's purpose is to present a problem or troubling situation. Hopkins first mentions the problem at the end of the first quatrain (four lines).
    • A sestet (6 lines) whose end rhyme is CDCDCD. The sestet begins the turn of the sonnet, or volta, in which the tone of the sonnet completely shifts. Sestets usually present solutions to the problems. In "God's Grandeur" Hopkins follows this pattern, and the turn makrs a clear change in the mood of the poem, revealing the optimism and belief that Hopkins felt.
    • Overall 14 lines with end rhyme.
    • Iambic Pentameter: five feet composed of unstressed/stressed syllables.



Description of Poetic Devices Used:
  • Inscape⁴: Once again Hopkins was influenced by reading Duns Scotus, and Hopkins combined his ideas with Scotus' to create what he called inscape, or the belief that all things are unique, and yet they are still interconnected in unifying patterns in the more complex web of life. Hopkins took this as further proof that God existed and was divine.
    • An example from the poem of this interconnectedness: Oil is crushed to show the power of God (line 3), but later in the poem man is ruining the Earth, especially during the Industrial Revolution, in which tons of coal were burned. Oil is mentioned twice, once directly and once implicitly, as well as once in a good light and once in a bad light.
    • Second example: At the beginning of the poem God's greatness is compared to electricity (lines 1-2); a different, subtler example of inscape is a reference to electricity in line 5, or the "rod" of God, which is comparable to a lightning rod and brings to minds Zeus's thunderbolts.⁵
  • Sprung Rhythm⁶: Hopkins is credited with the creation of this form of rhythm. Sprung Rhythm (opposite of running rhythm) has between one and four syllables per foot (instead of 2-3), with the stress always placed on the same syllable. It was also supposed to imitate the way humans naturally speak.
  • Similes: Line two: "Like shook foil"; Lines 3-4: "like the ooze of oil crushed."
  • Other comparisons: Lines 13-14 "the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings"; an interesting comparison that is almost a reverse personification, or giving the spirit of God animal characteristics.
  • Alliteration: Lines 10-12 " 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—" This is an interesting use of back to back alliteration.
  • Repetition: Line 5, "Generations have trod, have trod, have trod."
  • In-rhyme: Lines 6: "all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil."; lines 6-7 rhyme of "wears" and "bare". This was another method that Hopkins used to maintain the interconnectedness of things in his poem.


Analysis:

In "God's Grandeur", Gerard Manley Hopkins skillfully uses images, similes, inscape, and sprung rhythm to convey a message of hope: while man is destroying the Earth, God and nature persevere and are always here to nurture us.

Hopkins begins the poem with an original and odd image: that of God's greatness charging the world, like an electric current that reveals itself in brief flashes of light (like shook foil (line 2)). Hopkins was a devout Catholic and Jesuit and here in the beginning of the poem his faith in God is evident. It is interesting to note that at times Hopkins became very depressed and felt like God abandoned him, contrary to the belief presented in this poem.

The use of another simile, "Like the ooze of oil crushed"(3-4) is an example of the interconnectedness of Hopkins' poems (inscape), because later on Hopkins mentions how the world was becoming smeared by man, and during the English Industrial revolution much oil was used, polluting the Earth. But, in this passage it is used to describe something good, and how God's grandeur oozes together and accumulates as oil does.

"Why do men now reck his rod?" (4) is a potentially confusing line. "Reck" is translated as "take heed of", and the rod can refer to God's power. It is also a historical symbol of Moses, who carried around a rod which God could used to demonstrate his power to the pharaoh, such as turning the rod into a serpent. This line does not convey an original idea, which is why do men disobey God, even though he is powerful and great? However, the language used to put forth this question is original.

The line “Generations have trod” (5) is repeated to give the reader the feeling and sound of how much time man has spent evolving and working to getting where he is now, which is not a good thing: Industrial Revolution England. The words “seared…bleared…smeared”(6) all summon negative connotations of dirty work that is hurting the Earth. Man has imposed himself everywhere onto the earth, has ripped out trees and put buildings in their stead. Hopkins clearly cared about nature and worried about the detrimental effects of the industrial revolution. Lastly, Hopkins has an interesting point to make about the connectedness of man and nature, which is still relevant today: How often does your bare foot touch the bare soil of the Earth? For most people, their daily routine is to get up, put on their shoes, drive to work, drive home, and take off their shoes- not once is there a sense of unity with the Earth, or even a reminiscence of how things were in the past. While the evolution of humans and their technology can be a positive thing, each generation can still learn from their predecessors, even those who wandered around barefoot and were still in touch with nature.

Finally Hopkins comes to the turn at the final six lines, or sestet. He wrote this poem in 1877, and had not plunged into depression too far as he ends on a very optimistic note. This section provides a large contrast to the earlier section of the poem (in which Hopkins also contrasted the glory of God and the dirtiness of man). How a poem ends determines the overall "feeling" that readers will take with them after reading, and Hopkins tries to convey the warm, fuzzy, feeling that he got when he thinks about the saving grace of God and the immortality of nature. The last line of the poem is yet another example of Hopkins' original comparisons; "the Holy ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings"(13-14) compares the holy ghost (and God) to a motherly bird that is protecting its young.

Unfortunately, Hopkins does not provide any solutions to the problem of man polluting and destroying nature. Instead, the end message is basically to have faith in God, and that he can fix it! Of course, Hopkins was confined to only 14 lines in this sonnet, but while the ending is supposed to make the reader feel warm, happy, and think "Oh, how nice, God's watching after us, it's okay...", it also conveys the message "Don't worry". This is troubling, because it can be taken as "Don't act", which is a trait seen in much of the younger generations of today.

Overall, Hopkins used very original images and similes to paint vivid pictures in readers' minds while conveying a message that has been often repeated, but whose importance is nonetheless still paramount.


Endnotes
1. Wikipedia. "Gerard Manley Hopkins" Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (2008). Dec 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_Manley_Hopkins>
2. Everett, Glenn. "Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Brief Biography" The Victorian Web (1988). Dec. 2008 <http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/hopkins/hopkins12.html>
3.Wikipedia. "Petrarchan Sonnet" Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (2008). Dec 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrarchan>
4.Wikipedia. "Inscape" Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (2008). Dec 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inscape>
5."Hopkins' Poetry" Sparknotes. Dec 2008 <www.sparknotes.com/poetry/hopkins/analysis.html>
6.Wikipedia. "Sprung Rhythm" Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (2008). Dec 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprung_rhythm>