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God's Grandeur -- Gerard Manley Hopkins

(Poem #606) God's Grandeur
 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.
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins
In a way it's telling that after an initial flurry [1], it's been over a
year since we last visited Gerard Manley Hopkins. Telling, because it serves
to highlight the incredibly small size of his poetic output - just 48
completed poems, mainly sonnets, yet their influence on 20th century poetry
and prosody has been immense.


[1] 'Inversnaid' was only the third poem ever to be run on the Minstrels.


"God's Grandeur" is in the sonnet form, with an _abbaabba/cdcdcd_ rhyme
scheme. The metre, though, is anything but conventional - stresses jostle
each other for auditory space over a backdrop of smooth uncounted syllables,
in Hopkins' trademark 'sprung rhythm'; heavy alliteration and the use of
strong internal rhymes add to the disjoint, yet undeniably musical effect of
the whole.

Of course, technical experimentation alone does not a poet make; what I
especially like about Hopkins' verse is the way the (admittedly unusual)
form always reinforces the content. For example, in the brilliant line
"Generations have trod, have trod, have trod", you can almost _feel_ the
passage of time in the pounding syllables, the heavy weight of years of
progress - "all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil / And wears
man's smudge and shares man's smell". The final resolution - "the Holy Ghost
over the bent / World broods with warm breast" - is equally effective in its
evocation of peace and beauty.

Oh, and I must also mention my favourite image in the poem - "shining from
shook foil" - I think the phrase is absolutely gorgeous.


Other Hopkins poems:
 poem #3
 poem #35
 poem #59
 poem #134
 poem #260


 b. July 28, 1844, Stratford, Essex, Eng.
 d. June 8, 1889, Dublin

English poet and Jesuit priest, one of the most individual of Victorian
writers. His work was not published in collected form until 1918, but it
influenced many leading 20th-century poets.

Hopkins was the eldest of the nine children of Manley Hopkins, an Anglican,
who had been British consul general in Hawaii and had himself published
verse. Hopkins won the poetry prize at the Highgate grammar school and in
1863 was awarded a grant to study at Balliol College, Oxford, where he
continued writing poetry while studying classics. In 1866, in the prevailing
atmosphere of the Oxford Movement, which renewed interest in the
relationships between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism, he was received
into the Roman Catholic Church by John Henry (later Cardinal) Newman. The
following year, he left Oxford with such a distinguished academic record
that Benjamin Jowett, then a Balliol lecturer and later master of the
college, called him "the star of Balliol." Hopkins decided to become a
priest. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1868 and burned his youthful
verses, determining "to write no more, as not belonging to my profession."

Until 1875, however, he kept a journal recording his vivid responses to
nature as well as his expression of a philosophy for which he later found
support in Duns Scotus, the medieval Franciscan thinker. Hopkins' philosophy
emphasized the individuality of every natural thing, which he called
"inscape." To Hopkins, each sensuous impression had its own elusive
"selfness"; each scene was to him a "sweet especial scene."

In 1874 Hopkins went to St. Beuno's College in North Wales to study
theology. There he learned Welsh, and, under the impact of the language
itself as well as that of the poetry and encouraged by his superior, he
began to write poetry again. Moved by the death of five Franciscan nuns in a
shipwreck in 1875, he broke his seven-year silence to write the long poem
"The Wreck of the Deutschland," in which he succeeded in realizing "the echo
of a new rhythm" that had long been haunting his ear. It was rejected,
however, by the Jesuit magazine The Month. He also wrote a series of sonnets
strikingly original in their richness of language and use of rhythm,
including the remarkable "The Windhover," one of the most frequently
analyzed poems in the language. He continued to write poetry, but it was
read only in manuscript by his friends and fellow poets, Robert Bridges
(later poet laureate), Coventry Patmore, and the Rev. Richard Watson Dixon.
Their appreciation of the strangeness of the poems (for the times) was
imperfect, but they were, nevertheless, encouraging.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1877, Hopkins served as missioner, occasional
preacher, and parish priest in various Jesuit churches and institutions in
London, Oxford, Liverpool, and Glasgow and taught classics at Stonyhurst
College, Lancashire. He was appointed professor of Greek literature at
University College, Dublin, in 1884. But Hopkins was not happy in Ireland;
he found the environment uncongenial, and he was overworked and in poor
health. From 1885 he wrote another series of sonnets, beginning with
"Carrion Comfort." They show a sense of desolation produced partly by a
sense of spiritual aridity and partly by a feeling of artistic frustration.
These poems, known as the "terrible sonnets," reveal strong tensions between
his delight in the sensuous world and his urge to express it and his equally
powerful sense of religious vocation.

While in Dublin, Hopkins developed another of his talents, musical
composition; the little he composed shows the same daring originality as
does his poetry. His skill in drawing, too, allowed him to illustrate his
journal with meticulously observed details of flowers, trees, and waves.

His friends continually urged him to publish his poems, but Hopkins
resisted; all that he saw in print in his lifetime were some immature verses
and original Latin poems, in which he took particular pleasure.

Hopkins died of typhoid fever and was buried in the Glasnevin Cemetery,
Dublin. Among his unfinished works was a commentary on the Spiritual
Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order.

        -- EB


After Hopkins' death, Robert Bridges began to publish a few of the Jesuit's
most mature poems in anthologies, hoping to prepare the way for wider
acceptance of his style. By 1918, Bridges, then poet laureate, judged the
time opportune for the first collected edition. It appeared but sold slowly.
Not until 1930 was a second edition issued, and thereafter Hopkins' work was
recognized as among the most original, powerful, and influential literary
accomplishments of his century; it had a marked influence on such leading
20th-century poets as T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender,
and C. Day Lewis.

Hopkins sought a stronger "rhetoric of verse." His exploitation of the
verbal subtleties and music of English, of the use of echo, alliteration,
and repetition, and a highly compressed syntax were all in the interest of
projecting deep personal experiences, including his sense of God's mystery,
grandeur, and mercy, and his joy in "all things counter, original, spare,
strange," as he wrote in "Pied Beauty." He called the energizing prosodic
element of his verse "sprung rhythm," in which each foot may consist of one
stressed syllable and any number of unstressed syllables, instead of the
regular number of syllables used in traditional metre. The result is a
muscular verse, flexible, intense, vibrant, and organic, that combines
accuracy of observation, imaginative daring, deep feeling, and intellectual

        -- EB

36 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anne said...

it s a very musical sonnet who asks question about the survival of nature...

MitchellHuey said...

literal meaning

Art Joyce said...

Telling also, that he was such a poetic iconoclast of his own age that
his works had to be published after his death. We should cherish our
poets while they live, not because we understand them, but because we
do not. Chances are, if we don't understand them, the rest of society
needs some decades or more to catch up to him/her.

By the way, in my Penguin Classics edition of Gerard Manley Hopkins'
Poems and Prose (1953 selection, 1985 reprint), there are 53 completed
poems, plus poetic fragments, which if counted with finished poems,
numbers 65 total (in this edition).

Sean Arthur Joyce

Anonymous said...

great poem but what r the literary devices in the poem?

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perlunya web komunitas event organizer said...

it s a very musical sonnet who asks question about the survival

Gabrielle said...

Greattt..great poem!

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