God's Grandeur

by Gerard Manley Hopkins


Original Language English

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.

-- from The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, by Stephen Mitchell

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

First, I really want to encourage you to take a moment to reread those beginning lines of the poem again. Read them out loud.

...like shining from shook foil
...the ooze of oil


The alliteration and rhyme tease like chocolate melting on the tongue.

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


Doesn't that bring a sly grin just to say that? "seared... bleared... smeared..."

Of course, we don't want to miss what the poet is telling us here: Business (and busyness), the constant drive to earn a buck can cloud our vision. It becomes all too easy to lose sight of the Divine, to forget the feel of the living earth beneath our bare feet, alienating ourselves from that which is our foundation and our home. Not only does this become a danger for us as individuals, but we increasingly place that "smudge" and "smell" on "all," making true vision that much more difficult for new generations entering upon the stage. This is a serious spiritual failing of recent centuries.

This past weekend we had the Spring Equinox (for those of us in the northern hemisphere). We stand at that delicate moment of balance between light and dark, when light and life are once again ascendant.

These cardinal points of the calendar, the equinoxes and solstices, celebrated by every religion and culture the world over, remind us of the rhythms of the world, the eternal cycle of life, death, and new life. They remind us that there is a pattern in the world, and we have a place in its unfolding.

The mind can hardly conceive of so much history in the land, the countless turnings of the seasons, year upon year, life upon life, the rising and falling of all things. Even so nature never tires and always brings us once again to renewal.

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 --


When we look deeply to the natural world, we recognize it as an embodiment of the sustaining presence of spirit, just as a mother cares for her children.

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
     World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


A reminder to us all: when we ignore and damage the natural world, we not only imperil our physical survival, we sever our very connection to the Divine. A book and a building are not enough. The human spirit needs cathedrals of trees, towering mountains, and fields of spring wildflowers as places of prayer. Wild, living places -- cherish them, fight for them; they whisper to us of our true home.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

May we all receive blessings of renewal and "the dearest freshness deep down things" here at the threshold of Springtime! If you're not feeling Spring's new life yet, go outside, walk "unshod" upon the earth, wrap your arms around a tree. See what happens.

Have a beautiful day!



Recommended Books: Gerard Manley Hopkins

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time





God's Grandeur