Analysis

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Last Reviewed on October 11, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 612

"God's Grandeur" is an excellent exemplar of Gerard Manley Hopkins's penchant for melding religion and nature in his poetry. Gerard Manley Hopkins's father, Manley Hopkins, wrote about the same topics in his own poetry, believing that religion and poetry were two of the best things mankind had been given. The younger Hopkins adopted the same philosophy. Many Victorians—including Hopkins—believed that nature was a revelation from God and had didactic worth. In "God's Grandeur," Hopkins uses nature to prove God's greatness.

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Another belief that Hopkins shared with his father is that nature is stronger than man. This idea comes out clearly in this poem when Hopkins writes, "Why do men then now not reck his rod?" Although men have smudged God's creation, they cannot do any ultimate damage to nature. Hopkins creates a picture of nature that shows it as resilient and indomitable by man, primarily because God in the form of the Holy Spirit "broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings" over the world. (This idea may sound strange to modern ears, since the twenty-first century has proven that man is ultimately capable of rendering the environment inhospitable.)

The poem itself is a sonnet that follows the traditional Petrarchan rhyme scheme of abbaabba, cdcdcd. The iambic rhythm rarely varies, except where Hopkins throws in a couple of trochees. In lines 3 and 4, Hopkins uses enjambment and caesura, ending his sentence after the first word in line 4: "Crushed." This breaks the iambic rhythm and emphasizes and imitates the idea of crushing. It creates unusual and surprising imagery, for the beginning of the sentence seems to soar with the magnificence of "shining" and "flame," both of which seem to contrast with the idea of oozing oil. However, that image foreshadows the work of men who stain and blot creation with their "trade" and "toil."

At this point, the sonnet is reminiscent of Wordsworth's "The World Is Too Much with Us," which also decries man's "getting and spending" and celebrates the beauty of nature. Like Wordsworth, Hopkins laments man's disconnection to nature: "nor can foot feel, being shod." But where Wordsworth ends by wishing he were a "pagan suckled in a creed outworn," Hopkins goes back to the Christian God and highlights his faithfulness in the face of mankind's carelessness.

The final stanza provides a deep joy and faith in the constancy of nature and nature's God. Line 10 expresses the simple pleasure of seeing the world's natural flora: "There lives the dearest freshness deep down things." The line sounds delightfully childish in its syntax, an appropriate reaction for God's children to have toward his gift of natural beauty.

The poem ends with a reference to the darkest night always being followed by the light of dawn. The image of the Holy Spirit brooding over the Earth (as he did during the days of Creation) ends the poem on a note that buoys a steadfast faith in God. The Holy Spirit has been there since the formation of the world and will continue to guard his creation. The Holy Spirit ensures that the world is charged with the grandeur of God, because God has not left humanity—he is still there each new day.

This sonnet is considered a nature hymn, which was a popular genre for poets in this period. Psalm 148, which details how nature praises God, provides the pattern for such poems. In this sonnet, Hopkins also alludes to Isaiah 6:3, which describes Isaiah's vision of God's glory in which the angels called out, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." Hopkins echoes that theme in his exploration of how nature reveals God's grandeur.

The Poem

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 290

“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.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 584

Sonnets are fourteen-line poems built according to strict conventions in a tightly structured form. Hopkins was intrigued with the sonnet form and used it often, sometimes adding his own variations. His poem “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection” is a modified sonnet with twenty-three lines.

“God’s Grandeur,” however, is written according to the conventions of the Petrarchan sonnet, named for the Italian writer Petrarch. This sonnet form has two parts, the initial eight lines, or the octave (rhymed abba, abba), and the concluding six lines, or sestet (which here uses the rhyme scheme cd, cd, cd). Typically, the Petrarchan sonnet poses a problem in the octave and presents a resolution in the sestet. Hopkins poses the problem of the human response to the beauty of nature, as created by God. The resolution comes through God’s grace, for divine concern preserves the beauty of the world intact despite human despoliation.

Hopkins studied Anglo-Saxon and Welsh poetry and drew from them an interest in alliteration, which he believed was essential to poetry. In “God’s Grandeur” the letter g is associated with God: “grandeur,” “greatness,” “gathers,” and “Ghost.” Each line of the poem is knit together through intricate sound patterns that include alliteration (repetition of consonants at the start of words), assonance (repetition of vowel sounds), and consonance (the recurrence of consonants within words). For example, the second and third lines read:

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil.

Notice how vowels (the long i of “shining” and “like”; the a of “flame” and “greatness”) and consonants (the repeated l, sh, f, m, n, s, and g) are echoed and re-echoed in the lines. Here and throughout the poem, words are repeated as well. In these lines, the simple words “it” and “like” recur. Elsewhere in the poem, words are repeated for emphasis: “have trod, have trod, have trod” suggests the repetitive, almost marchlike tread of generations of trudging people. The assonance of the vowels in “seared,” “bleared,” and “smeared” again drives home the ugliness of human destruction. The last line of the poem draws together in a complex pattern the consonants w, r, b, d, and s, which have echoed throughout the sestet and have come to carry the associations of the gentle, protecting warmth of God as a nesting dove. Further, the word “world” itself brings the reader back to the first line.

Alliteration may have had a philosophical meaning for Hopkins. He believed that the universe is built on the unity of God, which finds expression in the diversity of the natural world. Alliteration is a principle of showing the similarity of sounds in words of different meanings. Thus, alliteration becomes a poetic analogy of the unity underlying the diversity of the world.

Drawing again from the Anglo-Saxon and Welsh traditions, Hopkins made significant innovations in poetic rhythm. He was chiefly concerned with intensity, with capturing the essence of an image, idea, or action. To that end, he would often omit inessential words. Rather than using an even rhythm of stressed and unstressed syllables, as in iambic pentameter, he was interested in the number of stressed syllables. He might omit unstressed syllables for effect or use extra unstressed syllables where they seemed useful. One may scan this poem by counting the number of stressed syllables in each line. These vary from five stresses in the first line to six in the last.

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