As a Jesuit priest, Gerard Manly Hopkins devoted many years of his life to spiritual study and instruction. As seen in his poem “God’s Grandeur”, Hopkins translated his intense spirituality into poems that explore the relationship between humans and the natural world as an expression of God’s divinity. In the poem, Hopkins presents the Victorian fixation on progress and change not as an improvement, but rather as a regression from a constructive communion with God’s glory as found in the natural world. Despite Hopkins’ negative view on the impact of man’s progression, he remains confident and appreciative of the protective power of God and the inexhaustibility of nature as further expression of God’s glory.
Hopkins sees the world as evidence of the grandeur of God. The “God’s Grandeur” of the title seems an abstract concept, yet with the opening line, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” Hopkins takes the earth itself to be a concrete manifestation of God’s magnificence (1). The word “charged” here assumes dual meanings. The world is “charged” with the responsibility to attest to God’s grandeur. Within the context of the technological innovations of the nineteenth century, “charged” also assumes the sense of an electrical power or force. In an age when men were discovering astounding uses for electrical energy, Hopkins reminds his audience that God is the source of such power through his use of a newly scientific term in reference to the world that attests to God’s, not man’s, majesty.
Tying to the idea of electrical energy, Hopkins continues identifying the world, the testimony of God’s grandeur, with powerful sources of light and heat...
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... When considered within the context of this comparison, men define a unique position, both powerful in physically possessing the earth, but in a larger scope, subservient as worshippers of a caring God.
Considering his poetry to be a celebration of the divine, Hopkins presents “God’s Grandeur” as a meditation on the world as a manifestation of God’s glory. Within this scope of this world, Hopkins comments on the role of men, specifically his contemporaries, warning against the obsessive pursuit of progress, which can in fact divide man from the presence of God’s grandeur. Ultimately, Hopkins celebrates the presence of God and the individual role in the divine.
Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “God’s Grandeur.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams, Stephen Greenblatt, et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. 2000. 1651.
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