Tag Archives: Gerard Manley Hopkins

“Charged with Grandeur”: A Reflection on Hopkins’ Classic Poem

I like to start my days with a bit of beauty, so every morning, I spend a moment reading and memorizing some poetry. Right now, I am working on Gerard Manley Hopkins’ classic Grandeur of God.

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.

The poem is divided into two stanzas. Stanza 1 has a rhyme pattern of ABBA ABBA, and Stanza 2 has a rhyme pattern of ABABAB.

Stanza 1 presents us with a conflict and Stanza 2 with a resolution.

In Stanza 1, lines 1 – 3, Hopkins begins his poem referring to radiance of God’s creation: God’s grandeur that “flames out” and “gathers to a greatness.” But in line 4, beginning with the word “Crushed,” he introduces the conflict: “Why do men then now not reck his rod?”

The three sets of alliteration, one of after the other, (men-then, now-not, reck-rod), give a sense of acceleration that emphasizes the discordance that is being introduced. Despite the grandeur of God, men do not “reck” (archaic word for “heed”) His governing rod. Instead, they carelessly exploit creation, and they trod and trod and trod in their pursuit of gain, mindless of the beauty of the world around them.

As a result, the world has been “seared with trade” and “smeared with toil.” Nature has been polluted with “man’s smudge” and “man’s smell”. There has been a fundamental divorce between man and nature, and the tables have been turned: man, who once walked barefoot upon the earth, has bared the earth and no longer feels it – he has separated and insulated himself from it with his industry.

After introducing the conflict,  Hopkins offers hope in the second stanza – hope that is found in nature itself because it is “never spent”, despite man’s heedlessness. He refers to the “dearest freshness deep down things”, the unique beauty that can be found in every single thing created by God. (This unique beauty of every individual reality is a recurring theme of Hopkins’ poetry.)

Even when things seem to be irreparably marred, even after “the last lights off the black West went,”  there is always hope; morning is always on the other side of the blackness of night. There is always this hope because God the Holy Spirit remains present in His creation.

To describe the Holy Spirit (whom he refers to with the old title of “Holy Ghost”), Hopkins evokes a bird-like image, perhaps of the dove so often used as a symbol of the Paraclete. Just as a mother bird covers her young with her wings (i.e. “broods”), so tenderly does the Holy Spirit care for His creation.

Hopkins ends his poem as he started with a reference to God’s luminous beauty. At the beginning of the poem he referred to God’s beauty as it is manifested in His creation. However, at the end of the poem, he makes a symbolic reference to the beauty of God Himself with his ecstatic recognition of the “bright wings” of the Holy Spirit.


In one way are another, we all have to wake up to face a world that is “seared with trade” and “smeared with toil,” but Hopkins offers us a beautiful insight and a wonderful reminder that not all is lost. No matter how dull or drudging our daily life may seem, and no matter how weary and gray our daily environment may be, there is always “the dearest freshness deep down” in everything around us. God’s beauty still charges the world.

All we have to do is take a moment to linger in God’s grandeur for the never-depleted freshness of His creation to fill and charge our own lives.

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“Charged with Grandeur”: the Universe and You

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God./It will flame out, like shining from shook foil. – Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

The Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo
The Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo

Shortly after arriving in Rome four years ago, I went to the Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, to attend the weekly address of Pope Benedict. I was just getting over my jet lag and feeling a little overwhelmed by the newness of living in a foreign country, so it was a welcome surprise to find myself waiting for the Pope next to a friendly American Jesuit. He introduced himself as Fr. David Brown and we began chatting; since it turned out that we knew people in common (it’s a small Catholic world) and had similar interests, we hit it off right away.

Visiting the Vatican Observatory 

Since then, Fr. Brown has come to be a great friend and mentor who is always more than willing to host me at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo, where he is a resident astronomer. Like the fictional Chesterton character with whom he shares a name, Fr. Brown’s unassuming and kind demeanor hides an incredible intellect: not only is he a brilliant astrophysicist with a doctorate from Oxford, but he also speaks Spanish, Italian, and French fluently. I love visiting with him and benefiting not only from his vast intellectual knowledge, but also from his spiritual wisdom, which is no less extensive.

I have taken advantage of his invitations to visit the VaticanThe bright light of a solar flare on the left side of the sun is seen in this NASA handout image Observatory on a couple of occasions and I always leave very impressed. On one occasion, he took me up to one of their massive telescopes to look at the sun. After putting on the sun glass and focusing, he let me take a peak, and I was mesmerized by why I saw: despite the 93,000,000 miles of distance, I could see the surface of the sun, make out sun spots, and distinguish solar flares. It was incredibly beautiful.

Looking at the sun that day was more than a cool experience: for me, it was an epiphany. If the sun is so mesmerizingly beautiful, how much more must be the God who created it!

An Amazingly Calibrated Planet

We live in an incredibly fine-tuned universe. Everyday, we see the sun rise and we see it set, but seldom do we take the time to consider that if the sun were even slightly closer to us, or if it were even slightly larger, the Earth would be incapable of supporting life, and we wouldn’t exist.

In his book, Miracles, Eric Metaxas spends an entire chapter marveling at the very fact that our life-supporting planet even exists; when you think about it, it truly is a miracle! As he puts it,

Our existence is a statistical and scientific virtual impossibility. That may sound far-fetched, but it’s what the most advanced science now leads us to conclude: that the odds are stacked so dramatically against even a single planet in the universe possessing the proper environment to support life that the existence of this planet and life is an anomaly of an impossibly high order. 

downloadThe Earth is a complex and amazingly delicate reality. For our planet to be capable of life, there is a huge amount of conditions that have to be met, and each condition allows for only the most infinitesimal margin of error. If Earth were just slightly larger and had just slightly more gravity, toxic gases such as methane and ammonia would remain too close to the surface for life to be possible. If Earth were just slightly smaller, water vapor would dissipate leaving a virtually waterless planet. If it rotated just slightly slower, our nights would be too cold and our days would be too hot. If it rotated just a little more quickly, winds would reach insupportable velocities.

A Fine-Tuned Solar System

Additionally, there are a number of conditions that need to be met in our solar system for our fragile planet to be able to exist. For example, if it weren’t for massive Jupiter, Earth would be hit a thousand times more frequently by comets and comet debris. Thanks to the fact that our humongous neighbor has 318 times the mass of Earth and thus 318 times the gravity, many comets that come anywhere near us are absorbed into its gaseous depths; but in most cases, it simply deflects incoming debris away from our solar system.

We also owe a lot to the moon. Since it has just the right size and is409950main_image_1538_946-710_Moon_NASA just the right distance from the Earth, it stabilizes the Earth’s rotational axis at its current optimal angle, without which we would not have our seasons nor our relatively stable temperatures.

If the moon were just a little bigger, we would be dealing with hundred-foot tides, which would make coastal cities and maritime travel impossible. If it were slightly smaller, the tides would not be strong enough to cleanse coastal seawater and replenish its nutrients.

Marveling at the extremely fine calibration of our universe, we cannot help but be moved to worship its Creator.

Deum Creatorem venite adoremus! 

The Creator of the Universe and Your Father

hands-440But here’s an awesome thing to think about: all the attention that God put into creating the universe is no less than the attention that He put into creating you! Just as He perfectly planned every detail of the solar system and set it up just right, so has He planned out your life and guides you towards eternal happiness.


The reflections on our fine-tuned universe were taken from Eric Metaxas’ book Miracles, which I highly recommend as a faith-inspiring and wonderfully entertaining read.