Years ago (as in 1976) James Sire came out with a book that would become a classic in Christian world view entitled, The Universe Next Door: a basic world view catalogue. It has since expanded into a fourth edition, but the heading for the “Christian Theism” chapter remains the same: “A universe charged with the grandeur of God.” Sire is highlighting a line from Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “God’s Grandeur,” the first four lines of which are quoted to preface the chapter. What a great chapter, but my problem was I never did like the poem. And that was because I never really understood the poem. Yet as time goes on, things dawn and deepen, and one day, I finally reached an understanding of Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur.” And now I see a few reasons why Sire would likely have chosen it. Here’s the poem and a short comment. LH
God’s Grandeur (1877)
by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
(This is an Italian sonnet having 14 lines, with the first eight on a subject and then a shift with the last six. It is necessary to understand the fourth line, which threw me for years: “Why do men then now not reck his rod?” This means: Why do humans not reckon, recognize or take into account the Lord‟s authority? The poem divides into three sections which are explained afterward.) LH
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.
First section: The Lord’s presence is like an electric current (electricity was new at this time), a surging powerful flame. The grandeur is also reflected like light off foil, or rich like pressed olive oil.
Second section: Humans who may not “reck[on] His rod (consider the Lord’s authority) will continue the brokenness of the Fall with human detachment from nature and the attendant toil and ugliness.
Third section: The depth of nature still bears witness to the Lord’s creative ways in spite of brokenness. Note a reference to Genesis 1 and the Spirit of God brooding over creation