God’s Grandeur Summary
– Gerard Manley Hopkins
God’s Grandeur by G.M. Hopkins (An Analysis)
The first four line of the octave (first eight line stanza in Italian sonnet) describe natural world through which God’s presence runs like an electronic current, becoming momentarily visible in the flashes like the refracted glinting of lights produced by metal foil when rumpled or quickly moved. Alternatively, god’s presence is rich oil, a kind of sap that wells up “to a greatness” which tapped with a certain kind of patient pressure. Given there, clear, strong proof of God’s presence in the world, the poet asks how that human fail to heed (pay attention to; listen to or reck) His divine authority (his rod).
The second quatrain within the octave describes the state of contemporary human life – the blind repetitiveness of human labour, and the sordidness and train of “toil” and “trade”. The landscape in its natural state reflects God and its creator. But industry and the prioritization of the economic over the spiritual have transformed the landscape and robbed humans of their sensitivity to those few beauties of nature still left. The shoes people wear saver physical connection between our feet and the earth they walk on, symbolizing an ever-increasing spiritual alienation from nature.
The sestet (the final six lines of the sonnet, enacting a turn or shift in argument) asserts that, in spite of the fallen of Hopkins’s contemporary Victorian world, nature does not cease offering up its spiritual indices (index). Permeating (fill) the world is a deep “freshness” that testifies to the continual renewing power of God’s creation. This power of renewal is seen in the way morning always waits on the other side of dark night. The source of this constant regeneration is the grace of a God who “broods” over a seemingly lifeless world with the patient nurture of a mother hen. This final image one of the God’s guarding the potential of the world and contains with Himself the power and promise of rebirth. With the final exclamation “ah! bright wings”, Hopkins suggests both an awed intuition (instinct; insight) of the beauty of God’s grace, and the joyful suddenness of a hatching bird emerging out of God’s loving incubation (hatching).
The world is full of God’s magnificence. The electrical images (charged, shining) convey danger as well as power of God. The poet constantly emphasizes that God’s glory is hidden except to the inquiring eye or on special occasions. In comparing the lightening to’ shaken gold foil, he may possibly have been influenced by the gold-leaf electroscope. The opening lines convey Hopkin’s sense of the power ·and glory of god latent in the world. The question describes what man has done to the world that should shine with God’s grandeur. Next comes the suggestion of ruin and dirtiness with the vowel run seared, bleared, smeared. The process is continued by smudge and smell, which pick up the initial consonant sound ’smear’ and, with new intensification, makes man’s smell indeed foul. One can also notice, in Line 7, the intensifying effect in the rhyme of wears and shares and the repetition of man’s with each: the earth is doubly infected (wears, shares) with man’s filth (dirtiness) as it were. The first four lines thus carry the imagery of the thunderstorm at first, the sense of brooding expectancy and then the burst of lighting. Here, Hopkins is concerned with why other people do not respond as he did, and the answer is suggested in the next four lines, beginning with “Generations have trod, have trod, have trod.” Generations of men, ignoring the miraculous quality of life, have lost touch with the grandeur of god and become callous (heartless) to it. Their efforts have all been away from what is most essential to them. Man has betrayed his inborn nature instead of developing it, and has given himself up to trade, industrialization and materialism. He has isolated himself from the sources of knowledge to be found in nature, allowing his greed to destroy his, natural sensitivity to beauty. The poets sweeping condemnation of 19th century industrialization comes very close to his condemnation of man himself .”Shares man’s smell” ¬although it could possibly refer to smells in manufacturing, it suggests physical loathing (hateful). But even at this stage there is hope and faith.
“And for all this, nature is never spent there lives the dearest freshness deep down things”. Natural beauty is still a loving force to him, and a constant reassurance of God’s concern for the world. Explicitly, Hopkins contrasts here the beauty of nature with the ugliness of mankind’s deeds.
Thus, the poem is a protest against the materialism of the Victorian age. Although man is greedy and wasteful, he may still hope to be saved as long as God is there. This is an explicitly religious poem.