Who Is God? Gerard Hopkins Explores Essay, Research Paper
Who is God? A theme that Gerard Hopkins seems to have spent his life exploring and attempting to answer through his poetry. By exploring nature around him, Hopkins adds insight to God?s relationship with and essential role to man– that of creator and redeemer. In his poem ?Windhover? we see a prayer to God as the all-powerful being in which we attempt to give ourselves fully over to– and through the observance of a falcon we see Christ?s descent from heaven to save mankind. The images in ?God?s Grandeur ?further Hopkins exploration by following man?s sinful nature, oblivion to grace and hope of salvation through Christ. Suggesting that the Almighty?s grandeur comes from redemption of the unworthy. By harmonizing these poems the reader can begin to uncover Hopkin?s understanding of the greatness of God and mankind?s relationship with Him through salvation and grace.
Throughout the octave of his sonnet, ?God?s Grandeur?, Hopkins uses the natural imagery to explore the Biblical acts of creation, fall of man, Christ?s sacrifice, and his disgust of man?s continuance in sin and destruction of nature to show just how unworthy of God?s grace man is. Through the act of creation Hopkins establishes that God?s power is absolute and eternal. ?The world is charged with the grandeur of God.? This speaks to the spark that started creation– the charge that brought man and the diversity of nature into being. The spark is also like electricity, which produces light: ?And God said, let their be light. And their was light.? (Gen. 1:3,KJV) Adam?s fall that set for the sinful nature of man: ?Generations have trod, have trod, have trod,? also resulted in God foreordained master plan of salvation for his lost creations ? Christ the redeemer. In the Bible, Christ was compared to the light of the world, and later the Holy Spirit would be like tongues of fire ?flames out/like shining from shook foil.? This redeemer shed His blood for the fallen man of which Hopkins is writing, it oozed out of his body when crushed ?like the ooze of oil.? When oil was used as part of the symbolic ritual of atonement during Biblical times, it was actually a type or symbol for Christ?s blood. In His sacrifice Christ atoned for mankind?s sin. The writer?s distressed tone emphasizes his disbelief that even in the face of this greatness men still do not respect and fear God, ?Why do men then now not reck his rod.? Hopkins ends the octave on a note of disgust that even after this great sacrifice mankind could still be more interested in material wealth and destruction of creation for profit than having a spiritual nature: ?all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil.? Hopkin?s uses images of a destroyed nature to not only paint a bleak picture of sin, but also to symbolically speak to the barren spiritual state of man. ?And wears man?s smudge and shares man?s smell: The soil/is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.? Man cannot feel a connection with God, through nature, because his feet are shod. In biblical times, shoes were removed on holy ground in reverence — man is defiling the holy ground that God created.
The sestet seeks to explain God?s magnificence by contrasting the dark scene of the octave to the constancy of God?s grace and continued relationship with man. I believe Hopkins is saying that the grandeur of God is that, despite our blatant disregard for His creation and sacrifice, He does not abandon us. ?And all for this, nature is never spent.? Nature can not only be seen as God rejuvenating His creation despite our mistreatment, but can also allude to God?s nature restoring grace and mercy on mankind through Christ. Through the writer?s amazement we see a longsuffering Creator that continues to bring new life into a fallen world: ?There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.? Hopkins also takes comfort in that, despite man?s shortcomings God has continued to work, through the Holy Ghost that ?over the bent/world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.? Meaning that God, through the Holy Spirit, protects His people like a mother bird who shelters and broods her young in her wing and close to her breast.
In ?God?s Grandeur ? Hopkins used the natural world to represent and contrast the humanity of man versus the majesty of God. The sin of man is shown through his treatment of the creation that he was steward over. God?s nature is also shown through symbols of creation. Hopkins alludes to the electricity to show God?s absolute power, oil to represent the atoning blood of Christ, and the protection and nurturing of His people through the symbol of a mother bird taking care of her young. Although Hopkins uses the same type of natural symbolism in his poem, ?The Windhover?, he concentrates on one central image to shed light on the redeeming and all-powerful nature of God. The falcon or windhover?s descent from the heaven?s down to earth represents Christ?s journey to save mankind. It is through the realistic portrayal of something we can fathom, a falcon, that we can come to understand the regal beauty of His life, death and resurrection. Both poems emphasize the grandeur of God represented through a portrayal of things in the natural world. As in the first poem, Hopkins alludes to man as sinners in need of redemption. He does not concentrate on this theme in ?Windhover? however, choosing instead to focus on the imagery of the falcon?s descent and comparing it to that of Christ?s.
In ?The Windhoverr? Hopkins leads us to understand more about the journey of Christ the redeemer, rather than just the connection between the act of redemption to a fallen world and the grandeur of God. This poem is a prayer to God; Hopkins dedicates it to Christ. In octave of the poem the writer is watching the mastery of the falcon and comparing it to the supernatural power of God. Through the image we understand Hopkin?s wonder and amazement that Christ, an all-powerful being, would sacrifice himself to save a lowly sinner whose ?heart [is] in hiding? from the truth and enormity his redemption. We first see a glimpse of the falcon soaring high above the earth; it is compared to a dauphin or crown prince of the kingdom of daylight. This allusion speaks to Christ being the Son of God who rules over heaven: ?I caught this morning mornings? minion, Kingdom/of daylight?s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding.? The bird is surveying the land beneath him, ?striding/high there,? removed from the strata of the earth below, like a ruler surveying his domain with an objective eye. The viewer watches in amazement as the bird halts to take a further look at something below and then launches himself back into the search conquering the forces of nature: ?how he rung upon the reign of a wimpling wing/In his ecstasy! Then off, off forth on swing.? The almighty power and majesty of God is shown prior to his descent to earth as a man. These lines speak to the awe and supernatural power of God in order to set up the humanity and suffering Christ felt when he was sacrificed on the cross. In line seven Hopkins speaks about his heart being in hiding as he watches this display of power over the natural forces. I think that despite this show of divine nature Hopkins can be stirred for Christ, but is unable to give his heart fully over to Him. So he hides from the all-knowing eye of God that sees him for who he truly is, a sinner.
In the sestet of the sonnet we see the descent of the falcon and his giving over to the forces of nature –God descending from heaven in the form of a man in order to be a living sacrifice for man?s sins. As such he took on the nature of fallen man in order to understand the plight of man. The submission to nature is seen as the ?Brute beauty and valor and act? buckle or give out. Christ submitted to the plan of God and died. The writer marvels in the bright red feathers that break out on the falcon and how they are a ?billion times lovelier?. The red feathers are much like Christ?s blood that was shed. The sacrifice of Christ was lovelier in the respect of the saving grace for all generations that it represents. Throughout the sestet Hopkins compares the falcon or Christ to a knight. The image of a knight, who fights and dies so that others might live, instills a sense of Victorian gallantry, courage and self-sacrifice. This gallantry is carried over into the last three lines when the writer challenges us to not be surprised by Christ?s sacrifice, because it was His purpose on earth. Hopkin?s illustrates his point by bringing in two other images of descent and submission: the earth being cut by a plow in order to bring forth future fruit, and the dark embers from a fire breaking open to reveal a brilliant gold red color. The illusion of the plowman speaks to Christ?s sacrifice cutting the way for future generations to be saved, and the black embers of a sinful nature breaking apart to reveal the red blood of Christ and the gold of heaven?the promise of eternal life.
Through comparison of these poems we start to understand Hopkins development of ideas of the nature and roles of God. By using imagery from the natural world around him in these two works, the writer illuminates two essential roles — creator and redeemer. Throughout ?God?s Grandeur ?Hopkins explores both roles by using natural imagery to expound on the Biblical foundations of creation and salvation, as well as laments over man?s oblivion to those precepts. Although the same thematic threads are woven through ?The Windhover?, we see a concentration on the redemptive role of God through Hopkin?s ecstasy over Christ?s dominion over creation and sacrifice for it.
Hopkins, Gerard Manley. ?The Windhover.? Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry and Drama, Seventh Edition. Ed. X.J. Kennedy, Dana Gioia. New York: Longman, 1999. 1084
Hopkins, Gerard Manley. ?God?s Granduer.? Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry and Drama, Seventh Edition. Ed. X.J. Kennedy, Dana Gioia. New York: Longman, 1999. 822
The Bible: King James Version
Lecture Notes, English 102, Carl Eby, Ph.D: University of South Carolina. March 14, 2000.