The forty-eight poems in Hopkins’ Poems (1876-1889) contain, in my opinion, some of the greatest poems ever written in the English language. Hopkin’s “God’s Grandeur” and “Pied Beauty” rival Marvel’s “To His Coy Mistress”and “The Definition of Love.”
Perhaps they are enhanced by the suspicion that, like Emily Dickinson’s poems, their style can never be emulated by another poet. They are unique.
Though I find it a little strange that my view of the world can suddenly coincide with a Catholic priest’s view of the world, “God’s Grandeur” so nearly parallels my view of the natural world that it might well stand as a synopsis of what little optimism I hold for the future of our world:
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.
To fully appreciate this poem, of course, you must read it out loud or listen to someone who loves it read it out loud. How can anyone living in the 20th century not feel that God’s creation has been “seared with trade” and “wears man’s smudge.” And still, despite man’s neglect and abuse, “nature is never spent.” Watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset, one could almost believe “the Holy Ghost over the bent/ World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
Anyone who doubts that the beauty of the world transcends man’s ability to smudge it, only need read:
GLORY be to God for dappled things,
For skies of couple-color 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 all trades, 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;
Though tempted to save this poem until I finished studying Flash because it seems the near-perfect poem to set to pictures, I relented, realizing it’s a great enough poem to be mentioned again and again, and yet again, lest we forget what beauty is father-forthed again and again if only we have the wisdom to discern it. Beauty is there, even in the “trades, their gear and tackle and trim” if we are but able to see it.