God’s Grandeur: by G. M. Hopkins - Summary & Analysis

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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.


      The poem God’s Grandeur was written on 23rd March, 1877. The poem consists of an expression of joy in the beauty of nature and a world ‘charged with the grandeur of God’. The poem was written at St. Beuno’s in Wales.

      Structurally the poem is a sonnet of the Italian variety with an Octave and Sestet. The very first line of the poem indicates the theme of the poem. The poem proceeds with the idea that though man is constantly revitalizing the grandeur of Nature but Nature does not become exhausted. It is continually being refreshed by the ever-spring freshness of the life of Nature.

      The language of the poem is very simple. The poet through simple language asks his reader why men are not afraid of “His rod”. The poet is surprised at the audacity of the human being who is constantly deviating from Nature’s rule or the command of God.


      In the first stanza, the poet says that God’s grandeur is revealed to us or to the earth in different ways. In one way it flames out with sudden brilliance, as when a silver foil is shaken and it gives out glints of light. Another way is that God’s glory manifests itself slowly over a period of time, so when the oil crushed from olives slowly oozes out and gathers into a thick pool. The poet then continues to say that it has been so in the past and it continues to be so in the present that people do not care for the authority of God. The reason, for people’s heedlessness is that they have become fatalistic to their misfortune. Hopkins gives more reasons behind it. He says men have now become too much materialistic and business minded. Like a galloping horse, generations have moved onward, have worked hard to threshold an era of industrialization and commercialization. The poet further says that, the filth and dirt of human selfishness have spoilt God’s grandeur and thus have poisoned world of Nature. Men are so much busy at their days work that they cannot even think about this decay for a little while. They are confined to their narrow circle of routine life and thus accepted their fate. Man has become quite indifferent to the loss of the beauty of the Nature and also his own natural beauty. As a result he has become too hard, too insensitive, too crude.

      In the second stanza, the poet says that inspite of all the oddities a bright dawn can be expected. Poet has faith in God and so he is optimistic; he thinks that the Holy Ghost is perpetually hovering and brooding over the earth and the mankind as a bird broods over an egg and sustains the life in it with its warmth. This beautiful imagery of the mother-bird brooding over its egg conveys to us a sense of living relationship. The poet expects that Nature can never be exhausted. Though people has become rude and indifferent to the Nature but Nature never betrays the man. She is too benevolent to give her all and thus become inexhausted. It is a perennial source of freshness with which the earth is renewed every time when spring comes; dark night and gloomy days are replaced by the new light of the sun of the horizon.


Stanza 1

Line 1: charged: The imagery is electrical. Charged generally means full of; to he overwhelmed with God’s blessing. It is the duty of the world to reveal the greatness of God. If one gets the blessing he will surely be able to reveal that.

Line 2: Flame out: burst out in fiery splendor; God is light.

Like shining from shook foil: The greatness of God is revealed to us in a moment.

Line 3: It gathers to a greatness: God’s brightness. God’s grandeur achieves in its totality.

Lines 3-4: Like the ooze of oil/Crushed. Like the ooze of oil, from crushed Oliver. Olive oil in the Bible is a symbol of power and kingship as well as of priesthood. Hopkins here means to say the painful crushing of human ego under religious discipline. When the human ego is crushed completely, then only God's greatness, may be revealed to us. Because we the human beings are in such a darkness that we forget totally about God’s grace and greatness.

Line 4: Why do men then now not reck his rod?: Why do human beings not pay attention to God’s authority or show an awareness of God’s power to punish them if they defy His will?

Reck: Pay heed to; take into consideration. Hopkins contends that disowning God implies a wrong attitude towards god, Hopkins feels distressed to observe that human beings pursue their worldly activities without any thought of God’s will and without the least fear of God’s wrath or what will happen to them after death.

Line 5: Generation have trod, have trod, have trod: People have followed the same path generation after generation. Generation galloped like a horse to bring about industrialization of the world. The repetition of the word ‘trod’ indicates the sound of the galloping horse. Repetition of the word also reveals the rapid growth of civilization and industrialization.

Line 6: And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

Seared: burnt to the skin;

Bleared: rendered, unable to see clearly because of a film of mist covering the eyes”.

Smeared: covered with dust or dirt or mud. The expression indicates that the world has been degraded and made ugly by commercial activity and by toil aimed at worldly or monetary gains.

Line 7: Smudge: dirt

And wears man’s smudge and shares man's smell: The beauty of Nature has been marred by man’s industrial activity; the fragrance of Nature has become drowned in the foul smells that come from machinery. The world bears the marks of man’s dirt and gives out man’s foul odor.

Lines 7-8: The soil/Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod: The soil is bare in the sense that the natural green growth is now obstructed and prevented by man’s use of land for industrial purposes. Nor can man’s feet, wearing shoes, feel any longer the softness or hardness of the soil.

Stanza 2

Line 1: And for all this: In spite of all this.

Nature is never spent: Industrial revolution has kept on damaging the beauty of Nature but still Nature is inexhaustible.

Line 2: There lives the dearest freshness deep down things: The beauty or freshness of Nature lies at the bottom of this world.

Lines 3-4: And though the last lights off the black West went....east-ward, springs: The sunrise is the symbol of the renewal and freshness of Nature. Though the sun goes down the western sky, and the earth is plunged into darkness the next morning the sun rises and dispels the darkness.

Lines 5-6: Because the Holy Ghost....bright wings: Here the poet points to the real source of the renewal of Nature. This source is none other than the Holy Ghost. The Christian concept of “Trinity” includes the belief in God, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. However, for our purpose, the Holy Ghost means the Divine Spirit representing the creative energy in the universe. ‘Bent World’ means the earth bent or inclined or turned towards God. ‘Bright wings’ emphasize discovery of God’s grandeur, or Holy Ghost’s radiance. The Holy Ghost takes care of the world when it is inclined towards God.


      The sonnet talks of the greatness of God. The main idea of this sonnet is in the very first line: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God”. The word ‘charge’ has different interpretation. In scientific terms it means electricity—that is to say that the world is charged with the light of God. In another sense the word reminds us of the duty (charge) of the world to reveal the greatness of God. ‘Charged’ and ‘flame out’ give the same meaning: both bring light. As a foil shaken in the sun-light gives a sudden flash similarly the greatness of God is revealed to us in a moment. The greatness of God is revealed in another way. It may be revealed to us slowly like the thick oil oozing out of olives when they are crushed. The poet in this poem has put a question as to why men are not at all afraid of God’s wrath as an effect of their constant evil doings. Generation after generation the hankering after money and wealth has left an ugly mark on everything in the world. The beauty of Nature has been defaced by human toil. The dirt and smell of human selfishness has infected the whole world of Nature. The earth is now bare having lost all loving beauty. But still man is insensitive, indifferent and ignorant to this bareness. The world Then and Now” emphasizes time, past and present, in the past then as well as in the present. The poet wants to establish the grandeur of God through logic. Through these two words the poet wants to say if this is so, why don't they do so? As in the octave, we get an idea of destruction of the countryside and natural beauty by industrialization, in the sestet we find a sort of reconciliation. Poet's faith in God has made him quite optimistic. He throws the ray of hope through the sestet to say that the Holy Ghost takes care of the earth. The poet sees the earth as an oval-shaped egg and the Holy Ghost as a loving mother sitting over an egg and sustaining the life in it with her warmth. The octave presents a dilemma, while the sestet breaks out of the dilemma by the power of its statement of religious belief. The poet in the sestet has revealed the idea that though the spiritual darkness seems to have come on the world, the poet sees the sudden revelation of the light of God in East. The God of Hopkins is not inside Nature - He is under the world's splendor and wonder. In the sestet while dealing with the commercial attitude of the people because of which everything is “seared” Hopkins is preoccupied with romantic ideas. The central theme of these lines is the destruction of natural beauty and countryside by industrialization. His dissatisfaction is revealed through the use of unusual words - “bleared, smeared with toil” - as to what man has done to the beautiful Nature. This particular line links Hopkins with the romantics. Wordsworth also deals with man's relation to Nature and Nature's influence on man and the entire world. Romantic poets lament that in this world of machines and trade man has been alienated from Nature. However there is a difference between Hopkins and Wordsworth as regards their attitudes towards Nature; Wordsworth thinks of the spirit of Nature only but Hopkins, a Roman Catholic, sees Nature through God. To Hopkins Nature in itself is nothing, it has an existence only when illuminated by God. The sestet contains two vivid images of a confronting kind a Nature image of sunset and sunrise, and a Biblical image of the Holy Ghost brooding over the earth. Robert Bridges called this mage with its ecstatic, adoring “ah”, “a perversion of human feeling and an example of Hopkins's attempts to force emotion into theological or sectarian channels.”

      The very pertinent question that Hopkins put to us is a query to the generations of the ages to come. The question as to why the people of modern age is not at all aware of the wrath of God because of their perishing and erushung the beauty of Nature is really thought provoking.

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