“God’s Grandeur” is a Petrarchan sonnet describing a world infused by God with a beauty and power that withstands human corruption. The poem begins with the assertion that God has “charged” the world with grandeur. It then describes the implications of this “charge.” The grandeur is like a physical force, an electric current, a brightness that can be seen.
The poet questions the human response to this grandeur. Why do humans not “reck his rod?” That is, why do they not recognize and accept divine rule? Instead, humans have dirtied this world by using it for mundane purposes. The images work on both the literal and metaphorical level. The poem may be read both as a literal lament for the destruction of the environment by industry, and as a metaphorical lament that humans are more concerned with the prosaic and utilitarian than with spiritual values. In any event, the world seems tarnished, and humans seem insulated, unable to perceive the underlying beauty and grandeur.
The poem’s sestet dispels the gloom evoked in the first part. Even though humans are often insensitive to the glory of the world, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” The beauty and power of the world remains inviolable, intact. Though the night seems dark, there is a continuing restoration of the light and morning, because the presence of God, like the dove of peace, protects and restores the world.
Although Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote this poem in 1877, he did not seek to publish his poems; he entrusted them to his friend Robert Bridges. Bridges placed some of these poems in anthologies, but it was not until after the poet’s death, in 1918, that Bridges published a volume of his friend’s poetry.