God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Summary and Explanation

God’s Grandeur’ is a protest against the crass materialism of the age; yet despite man’s wantonness and greed and wastefulness, there is hope for the world, as God continues to brood over it. The poems of Hopkins written in 1877breathe with a simple rapture at the loveliness of the world as a manifestation of God, and bya confident, even triumphant mastery of rhythm, diction and imagery.

In these lines the poet says that the world is full of the glory and grandeur of God. And this grandeur of God bursts out like shining from a hammered foil- “like shining from shook foil”. This gathers greatness just as the oil gathers after it has been crushed out from olives. So the poet suggests that God’s grandeur gets its totality after a fruitful but painful crushing of human ego under religious discipline. Just as oil becomes useful only after it has been taken out of olives, in the like manner human ego partakes of God’s glory and grandeur only after a great deal of religious perspiration and devotion. This leads the poet to lament the fact that still people do not pay attention to God’s power and glory. Generation after generation of men has followed the same path without minding the power of God to punish them. In this world everything has been seared and corrupted by the dirty materialism in which man has taken part. Everything has been smeared and corrupted by commercial activity and the toil which brings worldly success or monetary gains. The nature around bears the marks of this smearing– man’s foul odour can be seen in the midst of nature. In other words, we can say that all the beauty and graces of Nature have been blurred by man’s worldly activities. The sweet fragrance of nature has been drowned in the foul smell of machinery. These ideas are reminiscent of Wordsworth who also spoke against the crass materialism of his age. In a word, Hopkins suggests that the beauty of nature has been spoiled and marred by man’s industrial activities.Because of man’s activities nature is becoming shorn of vegetation.

Hopkins says that man has been despoiling nature unmindful of the punishments which God can inflict on humankind. Man’s toiling feet have worn away vegetation from the surface of the earth. In term of imagery also these lines deserve special mention. The similes introduced by the poet in the beginning are unique. He mentions “shook foil” and “ooze of oil crushed.” These similes, to say the least, are highly suggestive. The repetition of the phrase“have trod” is very effective. It brings to our mind the poet’s opposition to the industrial civilization which is taking root everywhere.

Analysis

‘God’s Grandeur’ was written by Hopkins in February 1877. The poem is permeated with the glory and grandeur of God. The poet begins by saying that nature has been made ugly by the industrialization of the age. Everything has become seared and corrupted:

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot fell, being shod.

Here the protest of the poet against crass materialism of the age can well be compared with the complaint of Wordsworth, who was also dissatisfied with industrialization. In the poem ‘The World is Too Much With Us’ he says:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers :
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Both the poets lament the indifference of people to the beauties of nature that lies round. But while Wordsworth satisfies himself with lament only, being a Jesuit, Hopkins goes further and having full faith in the greatness and goodness of God feels certain that the grandeur of God will still shine forth, Man has tried to kill nature but it will rejuvenate itself because the spirit of the Holy Ghost lies over it:

And for all this nature is never spent:
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things :
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah ! bright wings.

The poem states its meaning with severe precision and hence the development of the thought becomes slightly difficult. There is great compression in the thought elements, perhaps because the sonnet form demanded great economy. The sentence-structure demands close attention to be understood properly. For ceaseless, untiring efforts the poet uses the structure“have trod” and repeats it thrice in the same line. The Holy Ghost bending over the world and thus proving God’s grandeur connects it with the opening statement – “The world is charged with the grandeur of God”.

In many poems of Hopkins, we find a streak of pessimism lurking through the texture.But in this case there is no pessimism. The pessimism is short-lived. The poet, being confident of the grandeur of God, is sure that “nature is never spent”. He sees natural beauty being seared, blurred and smudged by the footfall of man, but the poet never becomes despondent.He is aware of the wings of the Holy Spirit spreading over the earth so that the “dearest freshness” of nature will be revived.

The theological element of the poem is insignificant. The conviction of the poem transcends any particular doctrinal belief. And everything is bound in typical Hopkinsian language.It is very sinewy, strong, personal, and inventive. The internal rhymes in “seared” and “bleared” and “smeared” are very happy indeed. The rhymes suggest richness and plentitude. The poem comprises some very individual and very personal poetry.

This poem belongs to Hopkins’ year of renewed inspiration when he wrote copiously. After the composition of ‘The Wreck of the Deutsch land’ there was an inordinate silence. But in 1877 there was a spurt of renewed inspiration and he wrote some wonderful poems ex-pressing ecstatic wonder at the beauty of nature. And among these poems about nature, ‘God’s Grandeur’ stands supreme.

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