Study Guide to God’s Grandeur
A favorite of those who memorize Hopkins for pleasure, “God’s Grandeur” is a musically spectacular poem. The sonnet was composed in 1877, the year that Hopkins became a Jesuit priest and his final year in beautiful northern Wales. Hopkins gives the reader of this poem a sense of God’s beauty as contrasted with God’s immense power to create and destroy. God’s power is greater than that of man—the poem depicts humanity setting about to ruin the earth and never succeeding. The repetitions of “trod” and the brutal rhymes near the first stanza’s end aurally dramatize man’s destructive efforts. For all the violence of the octet, the majesty and tranquility of the sestet culminate in the appearance of a Holy Ghost that is caring (“brooding”), welcoming (“warm breast”) and good to behold (“ah!– bright wings”). From its turbulent start, the poem has come to rest in the breast of a merciful Holy Ghost. The poem relies on both power and beauty to be as persuasive as possible.
Here are some things to think about regarding this poem:
- According to Hopkins, what are human beings doing to nature through their modern industrial society? What is the outcome, the effect, of this relationship with nature, both on nature and on the human beings themselves?
- Is the “flame” from the octet (l. 2) at all related to the rising sun of the “morning” the poet describes in the sestet (l. 12)? If you think they are related, how so?
- How do you picture Hopkins’s “Holy Ghost” (l. 13)? Why might the poet have chosen this particular person of the Trinity rather than either of the other two persons (Father or Son)?