Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest and poet who lived during the latter half of the nineteenth century and became, after his death, one of the leading poets of the Victorian era. His style was innovative and unusual for that time, experimenting with rhythm, word structure and imagery.

I was introduced to his poetry at school and instantly fell in love with it - particularly with what seemed to me a freedom and playfulness with words. In later life, going on retreats to St Beuno's, I learnt more of his varied and fascinating life, of his depressions (which struck a chord with me) and his struggles to hold in tension his poetry and his Jesuit life.

This is one of my favourites of his poems:


God's Grandeur
by Gerard Manley Hopkins



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.



To get the full effect, read the poem out loud (even if you are on your own!). It can become a prayer of poignant praise.

4 comments

  1. Anonymous  

    30 August 2009 at 23:11

    I would be interested to hear your's and other's interpretations of this poem - the lines which speak to me are that nature is never spent and the last 2 lines - the Holy Ghost, the warm breast and the ah! bright wings. Beautiful.

    Does this mean that no matter what we do to God's earth, He is always with us?

  2. Kath Williamson  

    2 September 2009 at 22:25

    I think this speaks to me of the fact that no matter what we (humans) do to our world, God is ultimately its creator and sustainer - and the God's Spirit will always be seen shining through whatever mess we make.

    So for me it is a poem of great hope and makes me want to shout 'Yes!' and thrust my fist into the air!

    There is always hope.

  3. Anonymous  

    7 January 2011 at 07:07

    Great poem. Thanks for posting it.

    Have you heard Benjamin Britten's settings of these poems for chorus? They're in a collection called "A.M.D.G" and well worth listening to.

  4. Kath Williamson  

    9 January 2011 at 16:59

    No I haven't heard them. I'll do a search.

    Thanks, Kath