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“God’s Grandeur” was written by Gerard Manley-Hopkins in 1877. The poem talks about how grand God’s presence is in our world and our lives. We can find his abundance everywhere. The poet also talks about how mankind has lost its way and now is working towards destroying the grandeur of God, i.e. nature. The poet says that God is angry and sad about this situation and wishes that mankind will change its path.
About the poet
Gerard Manley Hopkins was an English poet. He was also a priest by vocation. He is known to have created the concept of “Sprung Rhythm”. He wrote many poems, including “The Windhover”, “The Wreck of the Deutschland” and “God’s Grandeur”.
This poem is a Petrarchan sonnet and contains fourteen lines. It is divided into two stanzas; an Octave (8 lines) and a sestet (6 lines). These breaks in the stanzas signify a shift in the argument.
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.
The speaker begins by saying that the world is “charged” with the greatness of God. This “charge” is so great that it flames out like electricity. This abundance is so rich and thick that it oozes out like oil from olives. Then he asks the question: why do men not follow God’s commands, “reck his rod”. He says that generations of mankind have walked on the earth and continue walking. Because of this everything is “smeared”, dirtied with trade. Because of this the soil and the land are eroded and now is devoid of any natural elements. This has caused a loss of connection between humans and nature.
The first stanza talks about the grandeur of god and how this has made everything “charged” with it. The poet here uses the term charge in order to give an electricity-like quality to God’s greatness. This metaphor is continued in the next line when the poet says that this electric charge will flare out like an intense flame and will be seen like the shining images from a foil which is shaken. Then God’s grandeur is compared to oil, when the poet says that it is gathered into greatness he means to talk about how rich and thick god’s greatness is and how in order to find the true value of a fruit it is crushed for its oil. Then the poet takes on the tone of disgust and asks a rhetorical question of why mankind no longer follows the words and commands of God. This means that human beings do not follow the natural order anymore and are destroying the world that God created. The next lines show how humans have taken over the world and “have trod, have trod, have trod” and trampled over nature. This is done to earn money and profits. The soil and nature have been the victims of mankind’s industrial mindset and they have “seared with trade” everything. Because of all this the soil has lost all its natural characteristics and now “wears man’s smudge”. It is no longer connected to God. This the poet says in a tone of disgust.
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.
In this stanza, the poet inserts a turning point. He states that no matter the amount of destruction caused by humans, nature is never fully spent. Even though the surface might be harmed, there is a freshness that still survives underneath. And even though there might be dark shadows from the west, the sun always rises from the east and gives the world a light. All the while, the “Holy Ghost” is watching over the world and is protecting it like a mother bird.
In this stanza the Volta is introduced. This is the turning point of the poem when the poet persona says that no matter the disregard shown by the humans and the havoc wrecked on nature, nature is never fully spent. This is due to the abundance of God’s essence in nature. Due to this nature will always replenish itself. The poet takes on a hopeful tones when he says that even aft5er everything, there still lies a “freshness deep down things”. This means that there is a refreshing and rejuvenating essence present under the surface of things tarnished by the human trade. The same way, though the world is overshadowed by the “black West”, it is not permanent. There is a cyclic nature of things. Just like that, the darkness of the west will be erased by the morning light of the sun rising from the east. This is because the world is watched over by God. The poet compares God to the “Holy Ghost” and says that he watches over us in a protective way. And in a bird-like manner guards us with his wings of light.