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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, 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.

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.

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