The poem says that God's grandeur animates nature. The speaker compares this grandeur to two antithetical or opposite aspects of nature. First, he likens God's grandeur to the light that shines and flares out quickly when one shakes a piece of foil. In this image, God's grandeur reveals itself as a shining light. The speaker then compares God's grandeur to an image opposite from that of light, by imagining it as a deep black oil that "gathers to a greatness." This is a slow image of the elements of nature gradually crushed together to form a deep, dark, powerful grandeur. Working together, these two images suggest several ways God's grandeur appears.
The speaker then compares these images to the way humankind has damaged nature. There is no grandeur in the smears and smudges humans have made on the earth through toiling at work and pursuing trade.
The poem ends by stating that no matter what humans do to the earth, nature keeps renewing itself ("is never spent"). Nature always reappears,...
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