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Analysis Of God's Grandeur

3705 words - 15 pages

As a Jesuit priest who had converted to Catholicism in the summer of 1866, Gerard Manley Hopkins’s mind was no doubt saturated with the Bible (Bergonzi 34). Although in "God’s Grandeur" Hopkins does not use any specific quotations from the Bible, he does employ images that evoke a variety of biblical verses and scenes, all of which lend meaning to his poem. Hopkins "creates a powerful form of typological allusion by abstracting the essence--the defining conceit, idea, or structure--from individual scriptural types" (Landow, "Typological" 1). Through its biblical imagery, the poem manages to conjure up, at various points, images of the Creation, the Fall, Christ’s Agony and Crucifixion, man’s continuing sinfulness and rebellion, and the continuing presence and quiet work of the Holy Spirit. These images combine to assure the reader that although the world may look bleak, man may yet hope, because God, through the sacrifice of Christ and the descent of His Holy Spirit, has overcome the world.

The opening line of "God’s Grandeur" is reminiscent both of the Creation story and of some verses from the Book of Wisdom. The word "charged" leads one to think of a spark or light, and so thoughts of the Creation, which began with a spark of light, are not far off: "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light" (Gen. 1.3). Yet this "charge" was not a one time occurrence; "[t]he world is charged with the grandeur of God" (Hopkins 1). Or, in the words of Wisdom 1:7, "The spirit of the Lord fills the world" (Boyle 25). This line of the poem also sounds like Wisdom 17:20: "For the whole world shone with brilliant light . . ." Nor does the similarity end with the first part of this biblical verse. The author of Wisdom proceeds to tell us that the light "continued its works without interruption; Over [the Egyptians] alone was spread oppressive night . . . yet they were to themselves more burdensome than the darkness" (Wisd. 17.20-21). Here lies the essence of Hopkins’s poem. In lines five through eight, he will show us the "oppressive night" that men bring upon themselves in their disregard for God and His creation. But he will also show us, in the final sestet of his poem, that the light will nonetheless continue to shine "without interruption." God will not cease working in the world.

Indeed, His grandeur "will flame out, like shining from shook foil" (Hopkins 2). The word "flame" is often associated with God’s grandeur. In Daniel 7:9, the prophet describes God’s throne as being like "the fiery flame." In Revelation, "the Son of God . . . hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire" (Rev. 2.18). In Exodus, God appears "unto [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush" (Exod. 3.2; Boyle 31). After promising Samson’s parents a son, the angel of the Lord "ascended in the flame of the altar" (Judges 13.20). It is possible, too, that this flame is meant to recall the "cloven tongues like as of fire" that appeared above men on the day of...

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