God's Grandeur Summary
“God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins is a sonnet about God’s eternal renewal of the earth.
- The first four lines of the poem describe the pervasiveness of God’s power, which Hopkins likens to fire and “shook foil.”
- The next four lines laments humanity’s heedlessness towards God, which corresponds to the dreariness and drudgery of life.
- The final six lines express confidence in the indelible power of God to restore and heal humanity, despite the faithlessness of the age.
Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Hopkins's poem is is an expression of optimism about God's eternal renewal of the earth. It takes the form of a Petrarchan sonnet divided into two stanzas: the first, eight lines long, is rhymed abbaabba, while the second, six lines long, rhymes cdcdcd. Hopkins mainly writes in iambic pentameter, according to the rules of the Petrarchan form, but he characteristically deviates quite a bit from this measured rhythm.
The poem begins with a statement that the world is "charged" with God's greatness. The verb is central to the line, suggesting that God's grandeur is not some gentle thing—rather, it is like electricity that surges through everything. The second line develops this notion of vitality: the charged world will "flame out," in the same way foil will reflect bright light when shaken. The image is intensified by the alliteration of the vowel and consonant sounds in "shining," "shook," and "foil." This continues into the next line, in which the poet compares God's grandeur to a kind of "oil" or essential substance inherent in all things.
The poem turns on line four, however. The dramatic break in rhythm, with the full stop after the line's first word, "crushed," calls attention to this violent verb. In one sense, Hopkins is finishing his metaphor, suggesting that if the natural world were crushed (perhaps like olives or grapes in a press), divinity would flow out. But the violence of this word, as well as its enjambed position at the beginning of the line, calls attention to it and suggests something of anger, even danger, and foreshadows the question that follows.
That question, which forms the argument of the sonnet, is this: "Why do men then now not reck his rod?"—that is, why do people no longer care about God's judgment or wrath? First, note the inverted syntax and alliteration in the line: "then now not" and "reck his rod" give the sound of the question a kind of internal drive and power while also imbuing it with a sense of terseness.
The rest of the sonnet expounds on this question. The next four lines, brilliant in their use of alliteration and assonance, establish how thoroughly man has defiled the natural world. The line "all is seared with trade" alludes to the "fires of industry" in general terms and the industrial revolution in particular, with its factory labor that "blears, smears" everything; everywhere is "man's smell," and his connection to the natural world is broken, as man's "shod" foot cannot feel the soil.
The second stanza forms an answer to this question. Hopkins suggests that, despite all of man's defilement, nature "is never spent," meaning that nature is a source of infinite regeneration and rejuvenation. No matter how much man "blears" the world, "there lives the dearest freshness deep down things"—which can be thought of as the "shining" or "oil" from the first stanza: emblems of God's spirit, which lies in all things. Morning always comes,
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.