Gerard Manley Hopkins: Creation’s Poet

Gerard Manley Hopkins saw the beauty of God in nature and wrote it into his poems. (cc image courtesty of Li-Ji via Flickr)

Priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1884-1889) was captivated by creation and wrote his fascination with God’s beauty into his poems. He wrote about the stars, the seasons, landscapes, birds and even nature’s imperfections—which he found beautiful as well. In each of the poems below Hopkins—in his characteristic rolling verse, sprung rhythm and unusual alliteration—praises God as the creator of all the wonder he sees in even the most common things.

God’s Grandeur” is Hopkins’ best known poem. In it he points to “God’s grandeur” which is so abundant in the world it seems to him as if the world is “charged” with glory as a circuit with electricity. Though, on this side of the Fall, creation “wears man’s smudge” there is always hope, for “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things” and “nature is never spent.”

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. 

Pied Beauty” builds on the theme that God is the source of all the beauty in the world, but rather than taking in the broad breadth of all of creation Hopkins looks at the “dappled things.” He thanks God for spots and freckles and all things “counter, original, spare and strange.” These too came from the Father “whose beauty is past change.” What should all this beauty drive us to? Hopkins’ answer is simple: “Praise Him.”

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

 

As Kingfishers Catch Fire” is not a simple poem and—as with so many of Hopkins’ poems—it bears re-reading over time, but what Hopkins is saying is worth finding out. He begins the poem pointing to a series of particular things—a kingfisher, a dragonfly, even a thrown stone—and claiming that these things have value simply because God made them. They make their Maker happy simply by being what they are. Hopkins ends by saying it is humankind which bears the most glory because we are made in the image of God and we give glory “to the Father through the features of [our] faces.”

A kingfisher's dive caught on high-speed camera. (cc image via Flickr)

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.


Comments

  1. How appropriate for National Poetry Month! And for this time of year when it’s a little easier to believe “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Thanks!

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