The sonnet God’s Grandeur was written by Hopkins in February 1877. This sonnet is a protest against the crass materialism of the age. Yet the poet says that everything is not lost. Till the time God continues to brood over it, there is hope for the world. God’s glory is going to burst out like the shine of the gold tinsel.
The world is full of the glory of God. This glory will burst out like the foil of gold. It gathers greatness like the oil crushed from olives. It achieves magnificent proportions after the human ego has been crushed under religious discipline. Just as oil becomes useful only when crushed out of seeds, likewise man partakes of God’s glory only after religious devotion. Then, why do people not pay attention to God’s glory? Generations of men have trodden the same path without recognizing God’s power to punish them. Everything in this world has been made ugly by crass materialism, by commercial activity, and by human toil for monetary ends. The world bears man’s smudge and smells of man’s ugliness. The fragrance of nature has been drowned in the foul smell of machinery.
Despite man’s activities leading to the destruction of the beauties of nature, it remains fresh and undestroyed. Although the sun moves to the western horizon and the earth is plunged into darkness, yet the sun will be rising again the next day. Likewise, there will be a renewal of nature. From darkness would come light; from winter, spring. In nature, there is a never drying source of freshness, which envelopes the world in spring. The Holy Ghost broods over the “bent” world and this brings forth renewed life. The Holy Ghost looks after mankind with the same protective care as a dove looks after its little ones.
Annotations of God’s Grandeur
Line 1. The world is full of the grandeur of God. Charged – filled with energy.
Line 2. This grandeur of God will shine forth like the foil made of gold. Shook foil – metal foil which is beaten to make thin foil.
Lines 3-4. the ooze of oil crushed – When olives are crushed they give oil. Likewise, the poet suggests that human ego improves under religious crushing (discipline).
Line 4. reck his rod – pay attention to the punishing power of God.
Line 5. The repetitions are effective. The poet says that unmindful of divinity, people have followed the same way.
Line 6. seared with trade – withered because of the application of the heat of trade. bleared – blinded. Smeared – covered with dust, etc.
Line 7. And wears man’s smudge – The nature wears the marks of man’s corruption and pollution. shares man’s smell – Man-dade machinery and its foul smell have corrupted nature.
Line 8. The soil is bare now – The growth of nature has been arrested. Nor can foot feel, being shod – Because man is wearing shoes he is unable to feel the softness of the soil.
Line 9. Despite everything, nature can never be exhausted. Nature will reassert itself.
Line 10. Deep down the earth the same freshness still persists.
Lines 11-12. The poet says that the sun goes down through the western horizon and the world is plunged into darkness, yet the next day also dawns. Likewise, nature also refreshes itself.
Line 13-14. The nature is renewed because of the presence of the Holy Ghost. Here Hopkins compares the Holy Ghost to a dove. Just as the dove broods over her young ones, in the like manner the Holy Ghost gives a protective covering to the earth. So the world is full of the grandeur of God.
The world is charged …. Feel, being shod.
These lines have been taken from Hopkins’ immortal poem, ‘God’s Grandeur’. This poem was composed by Hopkins in February 1877. This poem 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 1877 breath with a simple rapture at the loveliness of the world as a manifestation of God, and by a 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.
Critical Appreciation of God’s Grandeur
‘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 around. 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 Deutschland,’ there was an inordinate silence. But in 1877 there was a spurt of renewed inspiration and he wrote some wonderful poems expressing ecstatic wonder at the beauty of nature. And among these poems about nature, ‘God’s Grandeur’ stands supreme.
Questions and Answers
1. When was the poem ‘God’s Grandeur’ written?
Answer: February 1877
2. What kind of protest does the sonnet ‘God’s Grandeur’ express?
Answer: The poem is the protest of the poet against crass materialism.
3. Which poem of Wordsworth can be compared with Hopkins’ ‘God’s Grandeur’?
Answer: ‘The World is Too Much With Us’.
4. Why does Hopkins compare the Holy Ghost to a dove?
Answer: The Holy Ghost looks after mankind with the same protective care as a dove looks after its little one.
5. How, according to Hopkins, does human ego improve?
Answer: Through religious discipline.
6. Critically analyze Hopkins’ poem ‘God’s Grandeur’?
Answer: See the critical appreciation of the poem.