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, the Catholic convert and priest who wrote near the beginning of the 20th century, had the gift of seeing spiritual life as dynamic, even agonized, rather than complacently sweet. As part of that gift, he went beyond conventional forms and images of expression. In this poem, he sees divine grandeur not simply in a trite vision of “nature,” but in nature as human nature affects it, too: industrial images such as shaking metal foil or crushed oil embody the grandeur. And in the poem’s final image of the Holy Ghost at the “brown brink eastward” appears as the sun rises in a spectacular dawn, including the brown sky of coal-fueled industrial terrain–a vision of godhead as sunrise in smog. Our smudge and blear and soil, he proposes, do not efface the glory.

–Robert Pinsky