God's Grandeur Themes

The main themes in "God’s Grandeur" are the certainty of an omnipotent God, the inherent ugliness that comes from a lack of belief in God, and the healing power of the Holy Spirit.

  • God’s omnipotence: Hopkins’s poem is underscored by a deep conviction in the all-pervading power of God.
  • Lack of belief: The poem laments the neglect humanity often shows towards its creator, which takes the form of ugliness.
  • The healing power of God: Despite humanity’s frequent failure to reflect God’s glory, the poem expresses a certainty that God’s divinity is always there, ready to restore humanity.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Certainty of an Omnipotent God and an Ordered Universe

As the sonnet opens, the speaker describes a world infused with God's power. It manifests or shows itself in a variety of ways: the two ways Hopkins mentions are the flashes of light that come when a person shakes a piece of foil (or a thin metal sheet) and the slow gathering power of black oil made by the crushing of rock over time. One is quick and bright and the other is slow and dark, but both are examples of a mighty God.

The point is that God is in control: Hopkins argues forcefully that this is not the random universe of the Darwinist and the naturalist writer—in which bad things happen randomly for no reason—but a world created by God, infused with his presence, and managed with a purpose, whether we know what that is or not.

The Inherent Ugliness that Comes from a Lack of Belief in God

The second half of the first stanza of this poem questions why humans don't "reck his rod" or pay attention to God's power ("reck" means to heed or notice, and a rod can symbolize divine or royal power). Here, Hopkins puts the blame for what is wrong with the world—all its toil, the endless trodding footsteps of exhausted labor, and a society "seared, bleared," and "smeared" with the quest for profit—on the shoulders of humans who won't notice or obey God.

The Healing Power of the Holy Spirit, Despite Humans' Lack of Faith

The final stanza shows that God also reveals his power in a different, more paternal way. This is a somewhat different form of power than that shown by the mighty and potentially wrathful God of the first stanza; it is the gentle, compassionate power of the Holy Spirit, rather, that infuses and heals the earth.

Some critics have noted that this sonnet seems to be a response to Wordsworth's "The World Is Too Much with Us," and this is most notable in this stanza. Wordsworth sees a modern society that causes people to "lay waste our powers" in service to industry; therefore, he finds himself longing to return to a pagan, faith-infused time. Hopkins, on the other hand, turns the tables and argues that, even if we have abandoned God, the world has not been abandoned by God.

In a series of comforting images, the speaker describes "the dearest freshness deep down things"; this freshness is the Holy Spirit. The speaker envisions it as a brooding bird that envelops and protects the earth. The poem ends on a deeply affirmative note, with God's grandeur surrounding humans in a form of power that does not punish but rather nurtures, loves, and protects.

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