God’s Grandeur G.M. Hopkins (1844 – 1899)

Posted: August 25, 2013 in NOTES OF TEACHERS


God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Paraphrase of the poem

Verse 1

The world is filled with the greatness of God. Men are born and die and are unaware of God’s greatness. Because they are too concerned with work, men cannot understand the greatness of God.

Verse 2

The world and nature continue. The sun rises and sets and God continues to watch over the world

Some comprehension Questions

  1. What is meant by God’s Grandeur?
  2. What have generation of men done?
  3. Why can’t people feel the earth?
  4. How does the poet describe the nature?
  5. Explain the line “the last lights off the black West went.”
  6. Explain the line “morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs.”
  7. What is the Holy Ghost?
  8. What is the Holy Ghost doing?

Board Questions

  1. Give reasons why men are unaware of the greatness of God? (2061) (see paraphrase)
  2. What is the central idea of the poem “God’s Grandeur”? (2059/61/62)


charged: filled with; grandeur: greatness; flame out: jump out like flame from a fire; shining: bright light/reflection; shook: gold tinsel/past tense of shake; foil: very thin piece of metal sometimes used in cooking; ooze: flow slowly; reck: take notice of; rod: discipline/rules; reck his rod: pay attention to the command of God; trod: stepped; seared: burnt/scorched; trade: work; bleared: blurred (made unclear); smeared: rubbed; toil: very hard, physical work; wears: covered by; smudge: dirty mark; shod: with shoes on; spent: used up/finished; deep down: inside; last lights: sunset/the end of the day; brown brink: the horizon; Holy Ghost: the third person of the Trinity, regarded as God spiritually active in the world.

Some solved questions

  1. What does the poet say in the first quatrain (4 lines) and in the second?  I

The speaker says in the first quatrain that the world is the expression of God’s greatness and magnificence. It is like the glitter of a gold foil which shines in the sun and it is like the ooze of oil that gathers in a pot coming from an oil press. However, mankind doesn’t seem to notice or acknowledge these manifestations of God; mankind doesn’t acknowledge God’s discipline. In the second quatrain the speaker shares the commercial and materialistic world of man, where he is too busy at work in order to make money and accumulate other materialistic gains. Man has become a slave to machine, and he has dirtied himself physically and spiritually by exploiting nature to fulfil his vested interests.

  1. What is the central idea of the poem?

Ans. The poem emphasises the glory and the all pervading nature of God in the world. The world is the gift of God’s greatness, but mankind doesn’t seem to realise this as they are too busy doing various commercial and industrial activities. Nevertheless, God gives freshness to humankind through nature. God continues to keep a watch over the world by renewing nature for mankind’s better life.

3.. Summarize the last six lines in a sentence.

Ans. Nature, an inexhaustible resource in spite of human beings’ destructive activities making it bare, is renewed or freshened by the grace of spirit of God, who is ever so watchful upon humankind night or day.

  1. What is the effect of the repetition of the words “have trod”?

Ans. ‘Trod’ means to put down the foot, place the foot. People have walked on this world since time immemorial. The words, “have trod” emphasize the fact that many generations of human beings have constantly not paid heed to God’s greatness and his will. Indeed, human beings have utterly downplayed the importance of God and his greatness. The repetition of the idea thrice is an indication of the constant overlooking by humankind of the splendor of God. Man has become mechanical in his approach to life. The present generation is following the pattern shown by their antecedents of stepping on this earth and getting lost in the earthly ways of life – of work and money. Mankind would rather work hard –”seared”, “bleared” and “smeared”- and act as slaves but not understand God’s bounteous plan for them.

How has man become ugly?

Man has become ugly for many reasons. He has lost divine will because of his overwhelming ambition and desire to make money. He thinks that emancipation is possible through hard work only and that is madness. Man also is interested much in commercial and industrial activities. As well as that, he has become slave to machines. Man is toiling day in and day out dirtying his body and soul before the machine. And then, he has also made nature ugly as he has exploited it to fulfil his earthly needs and wishes. Thus, man has become insensitive and merciless because of his abandonment of God’s plan.

Comment on the form of the poem?

The poem is a sonnet i.e., it comprises of 14 rhymed lines expressing the speaker’s high reverence and esteem for God. It is written in the Petrarchian school of sonnet. The poem can be divided into two sections: the first eight lines which celebrates the greatness of God (first four lines) and the contrasting human acts in the earthly world (second four lines). In other words, the octet focuses on the problem of mankind’s disrespect for God and his bounteous plan. They work and treat money they get through work as their God. The rhyme scheme here is abbaabba.

 The last six lines are rhymed cdcdcd, and it deals with nature and its inexhaustibility. God constantly renews and replenishes nature and world for man and his people. He has been doing this since time immemorial but the people who live in the world of sleep and shadow never know of his bounteousness. He instills freshness in nature which can be seen each morning. Also, when the spring comes, nature renews itself just like the dawn comes after the night. God in the shape of the Holy Ghost – spiritually active God in the world – provides replenishment and protection to nature and to mankind like a dove does to its young brood under its bright wings. Thus, the last six lines appear to be the solution.

“God’s Grandeur is an excellent blending of accurate observation with lofty imagination.” Explain.

G.M. Hopkins has come with a very penetrating poem that is stylistically pleasant and aesthetically liberating. The language has subtle layers of meaning, and the references made to the Bible and to common phenomena are truly fascinating and compelling. The observation of ordinary phenomena with such imagination provides us a great insight into the poet’s devotion, his high regard for God, and, by extension, our need for supplication before him.

In the first quatrain the reference to the gold foil and the oozing of oil that collects into a pot are simple observation. God is that brilliant entity whose halo of splendor provides solace to devout Christian people; and, ooze of oil that gathers in a pot coming from an oil press is an image of the omnipotence, omniscient and omnipresence of God. Even the setting of the sun in the West and its rising in the East in the morning is fabulously done, not just because it provides us an image of a great morning but also the implied freshness that is ever so present in the nature, thanks to God’s bounty and graciousness. Even the observation of man slaving in front of machines and sullying his clothes is a very truthful observation of the daily grinding mankind goes through in this physical world.

The final image of the Holy Ghost and his revelation in this physical world in the metaphor of a dove brooding over its young ones is highly imaginative. The Christians believe that soul is invisible but always present in this world in the form of the Holy Ghost, and the idea here of the presence of the spiritual force to provide protection to nature and humankind is very reassuring.

Thus, the poet demonstrates his feeling of reverence to God through the use of several images, mainly visual. Also he demonstrates that God is unchangeable and endless through the beauty of nature which remains fresh forever.

Raj Kumar Gautam, Arniko HSS, Biratnagar, Nepal, rgautam78@yahoo.com, August 24, 2013.

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