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.
God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins
When we think of the grandeur of God, our first thoughts go to the magnificence of creation. As St Paul wrote in the book of Romans, God’s ‘invisible attributes are clearly seen’. Gerard Hopkins describes a world ‘charged’ and ‘flaming out’, but this is more than the appreciation of a sunrise. Look close and see the essence of God in Gethsemane.
As Malcolm Guite writes in The Word in the Wilderness:
Crushed’ is the key word in this poem, and it is the link with Gethsemane. Gethsemane, you remember means ‘Oil-Press’. It is in the press and pressure of Gethsemane that God’s grandeur ‘gathers to a greatness’. There, where we least expect it, that deepest charge of glory is to be found. This is also the heart of John’s Gospel. The constant question in the first part of that gospel, you remember, is when and how God’s glory is going to be revealed, when is the ‘hour’ coming? And when it comes, it comes not at the brightest but at the darkest moment. It happens in the transition between John 13.30 and 31, just as Judas goes out to betray him and begin the chain of events that will lead to Gethsemane and the cross:
‘So, after receiving the piece of bread he immediately went out. And it was night. When he had gone out Jesus said ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.’
Christ has come to be crushed, crushed with us, so that in him, through him, and for us, the glory might be revealed and the oil pressed. The oil that is his Eleison, his mercy and healing, poured into the world.
How does crushing reveal essence?
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
D I G D E E P E R
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Hopkins, a 19th-century British Jesuit has influenced as many secular poets as he has religious ones. His poems press against the borders of his forms; he wrings multiple meanings out of his language. He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1866 Hopkins joined the Roman Catholic Church, in 1868 he entered the Jesuit novitiate, and in 1877 he was ordained priest. In 1884 he was appointed professor of Greek at the Royal University, Dublin, a position which he held till his death. He was unknown as a poet during his life, except to two or three friends, who recognized his genius and loved him as themselves.
Sources & Resources
Hopkins, Gerard Manley. Mortal Beauty, God’s Grace: Major Poems and Spiritual Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins. New York: Vintage Books, 2003.
Lichtmann, Maria. Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poetry as Prayer. Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2002.
Mariani, Paul. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life. New York: Viking, 2008.
White, Norman. Hopkins: A Literary Biography. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page. You can read more about him on this Interviews Page