(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Hopkins’s ideas of inscape and instress seem to imply that every object in creation has something like a soul, that is, a power that points toward its divine creator. He begins “God’s Grandeur,” composed in 1877, with the assertion that the world as a whole has this inscape: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Though several senses of the word “charge” may be relevant in this statement, the primary sense seems to be of electric force. God is like an electric charge present in the world. This image is continued in the statement that this divine force “will flame out.” While conveying the idea of a lightning strike implicit in the image of an electrical charge, this new image also suggests the Pentecostal tongue of flame, which introduces one of the aspects of God’s presence in the world as the Holy Spirit, the idea with which the poet ends. Hopkins extends this idea into that of blinding light, another familiar biblical image associated with God, when he says that the flaming out of the grandeur of God is “like the shining of shook foil.” In a letter, Hopkins said that he was thinking of gold foil, which “gives off broad glares like sheet lightning and . . . owing to its zigzag dints and creasings and network of small many cornered facets, a sort of fork lightning too.” Other senses of foil may also enrich this image—for example, the idea of a sword, with its suggestions of challenge and judgment. The next image compares the gathering of the force of God in nature to the way oil gathers in a container as seeds or olives are crushed.

Having asserted the presence, greatness, and force of divine power in nature, the poet poses the main question: “Why do men then now not reck his rod?” He asks why, given the visible power of God in nature, people fail to see it and to show regard for God. The phrase “reck his rod,” which may seem archaic and needlessly difficult, like the entire grammatical arrangement of the question, nevertheless is carefully chosen. “Rod” seems mainly to refer to the scepter, symbolic of power to judge, that points to and rhymes with God; but rods are also often thought of as instruments of punishment. “Reck” is a little used and archaic term, meaning to regard or care for, and both meanings are relevant here. It is also however, related to words such as “recognize” and “reckoning,” with their various connotations. Such meanings amplify the question in several ways. For example, these ideas remind readers that...

(The entire section is 1024 words.)