God’s Grandeur

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God’s Grandeur
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

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.

I stumbled on this poem last night and I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day. A collection of Hopkins’s poems is on my nightstand, so I looked it up again as soon as I got into bed. I read it again just now, then forced it on Jamie (a professed poetry hater, unless that poem is about her, by me). She said, when I finished, “What–in–the–world was all that about?”

After I stopped laughing she said, “Give it to me again. I’m ready now.” I read it again, noticing some of its nuances for the first time, then she said, “So God made this beautiful world, and man’s made a mess of things, right? But the Holy Spirit is still present, and God’s beauty is stronger than the mess. Is that it?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said, wondering how Hopkins would feel about his verse being summed up that way. “But a poem isn’t just a puzzle to be figured out. It’s also about how it affects you.” I shrugged. “Then again, you’re someone who likes things explained. So yeah. I suppose that’s what it’s about.” For me, it’s about the way he said it, about the beauty of a lovely thought expressed with love. Jamie’s not crazy about questions. She wants the comfort of answers, and I like the adventure of mystery. But spouses, like good poems, aren’t easy to sum up in a sentence or two; I like answers and comfort too, and she’s one of the most adventurous, trusting people I know. She’s a poem written in a language I’m only beginning to learn.

I thought, “A poem this good deserves a third read-aloud.” So I read it to her one more time, loving it even more than I did before. Her silence was the silence of a soul inspired, the silence of someone whose husband had just read her a grand poem about God’s grandeur, a silence of—sleep? Yes, sleep. She was long gone by the end of the third reading. Not everyone is a lover of hundred-year-old poetry, and neither the poem nor my wife are any less wonderful because of it. I love that the last thing she heard as she drifted off was about the bright wings of God’s Holy Spirit brooding over us; whether you’re a poet or not, that’s good news.

Here it is again. (And you have to read it aloud.)

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.

I’m not familiar with Stanley Kunitz, but this video of him reading this, his favorite poem, brought tears to my eyes. His description of stumbling onto the poem is worthy of its own Rabbit Room post. Here’s a snippet of what he says:

“Back in 1926, I was roaming through the stacks of the Widener Library at Harvard. When I was walking through the section on English poetry of the nineteenth century, I just at random lifted my arm and picked a book off the shelf. It was attributed to an author I was not familiar with—Gerard Manley Hopkins. The page that I turned to and began to read was a page devoted to a poem called ‘God’s Grandeur.’

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It really shook me, because it was unlike anything else I had ever read before. Suddenly that whole book became alive to me. It was filled with such a lyric passion; it was so fierce and eloquent, wounded and yet radiant, that I knew that it was speaking directly to me and giving me a hint of the kind of poetry that I would be dedicated to for the rest of my life.”

So how does this poem hit you? Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by a poem?

Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


54 Comments

  1. kati

    Ah! Thank you for sharing this. I needed a twinkle today. I first discovered Gerard Manley Hopkins when I chose at random one of his poems for a paper. I say I chose it at random, but I rather think it chose me. I didn’t even understand it when I first read it, but the clamor of sounds and earthy imagery gripped me. Unearthing the significance of the poem was like an excavation of myself. Another author that has rooted me to the spot in that same way was Ralph Waldo Emerson. Reading his essay on Nature for the first time was like reading something my soul would have written itself if it had only known what didn’t know it already knew. I’m pretty sure that only makes sense in my mind. To put it in understandable terms, Emerson was able to say verbally what my eye was trying to describe in a vision every time I took a photo. Reading things by poets and authors like Hopkins and Emerson always leave me with a yearning. I want so much more than to just read it and understand. I want to somehow become a part of it, or perhaps let it become a part of me. To soak it up, breathe it in.

  2. Bruce Hennigan

    C. S. Lewis called it numinous. That inexplicable impression that the event that has just transpired is filled with the unmistakable imprint of the divine and touches our very soul with God’s presence.

    Thank you, Andrew. This was a truly numinous moment!!!

  3. kati

    It would seem another thank you is in order. Had this not caught my eye on Facebook today, I would not have known you’re playing near me day after tomorrow, and I would have missed enjoying in person another poet that frequently reveals vivid twinkles of God’s Kingdom shining through the fabric of my day.

  4. Cliff Lewis

    No way! If there was ever a poem that stopped me in my tracks, it was “God’s Grandeur.” I came across it in a college lit class and was amazed at how Hopkins managed to combine the wild fury of a beat poet with the serenity of a monk. I want that.

    I even keep a Che-like portrait of Hopkins next to my desk at work to remind me to keep my head in the clouds. Really: http://instagr.am/p/KhLkS/

  5. Bob Kauflin

    Andrew,

    I set this poem to music for a vocal major’s senior recital in college back in mid-70s. It’s as stunning to me now as it was then. I especially liked the “ah! bright wings” phrase.

  6. Robert Berman

    The CCM Industrial band Mortal used this poem as the lyrics to their song “Bright Wings” in the mid-90s:

  7. Andrew

    Your experience of reading the poem to Jamie sounds very much like it could have happened between my wife and me! Thanks for the anecdote, and thanks very, very much for sharing the poem. Definitely stopped me in my tracks today.

  8. Janna Barber

    Truly amazing! Thanks for sharing this. I so need to read more poetry, but often I feel like Jamie at the end of the day and don’t have the brain power. I like that you were able to show how you both have learned to appreciate each other’s differences and still share beautiful things with each other. What better way to fall asleep than listening to your husband read poetry? Jamie is awesome!

    BTW – Can you tell us what year that poem was written?

  9. Ugly Biscuit

    Answering another once more, something that Andrew Peterson asked:

    Chris Rice stops me in my tracks. He is the most creative christian songwriter I’ve ever heard. He once put the word, ‘Prestidigitator’ in a song…….who does that?

    “Tangerine sky?”

    “Smell the color nine?”

    Amazing gift of lyrical expression that man is in possession of…

  10. Julie Silander

    Well, that was beautiful on two counts. First, the poem was… well, beyond words. Even more powerful, however, was your commentary on your wife. “She’s a poem written in a language I am only beginning to learn.” At the risk of breaking blog-etiquette (of which I know very little), I thought I’d share the following link that was posted today:

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/08/17/love-the-one-youre-with/

    The poetry of a growing marriage is a powerful form of verse. Thank you for living it out with integrity before so many.

  11. Lindsey Murphy

    This poem has long been my favorite (well, tied with e.e. cummings “i thank you god for most this amazing day). Your thoughts and comments have given it a freshness to me. Thank you.

  12. Tom Murphy

    Beautiful Andrew! I’m more of a dozer than a meter adorer myself, but just grateful that the Body is the Body (Eph 4:16). Before we are face-to-face in His Presence, there are those that must mine, so that gold may be adorned by the Bride. As instruments in the Redeemer’s hands, I am glad that we all play different notes, but find our unity, and our song, in Him. As the Spirit guides us and binds us, He calls the tune from His symphony of saints.

    Although poetry runs deep in Irish veins, I am afraid the poetry of the Murphy Irish Bards has been crowded out by the hospitality of a long line of ancestral Italian cooks…Que sera sera!

  13. Jen

    Sadly, I haven’t read much Hopkins, but this makes me want to read more. Stunning. I can see how it’s confusing the first time through, but that just makes me want to read it over and over to figure out what he’s really saying. (and yes, poems aren’t puzzles to solve… but somehow that helps me.)

    Stopped in my tracks by poems? Yes, too many to list here. I’ve always been fond of the Romantics, but I’ve also been stopped by Emily Dickinson, John Donne (I know it’s got this intense violent imagery, but his “Batter My Heart” sonnet undid me the first time I read it), Robert Frost… hey, even Billy Collins! (the poet for people that don’t like poetry. :))

    But I’d say the most recent surprise discovery was Jeanne Murray Walker’s poem “Staying Power.” I’ve never seen anyone frame doubt, faith, and the persistent, surprising presence of God quite like she does:

    Like Gorky, I sometimes follow my doubts
    outside and question the metal sky,
    longing to have the fight settled, thinking
    I can’t go on like this, and finally I say

    all right, it is improbable, all right, there
    is no God. And then as if I’m focusing
    a magnifying glass on dry leaves, God blazes up…

    It just gets better from there. Here’s her website for the whole poem, and some other good ones (I like “Gift” a lot too.) http://www.jeannemurraywalker.com/poems.php

  14. Chris Whitler

    I’m not much for poetry in everyday life…I wish I were but…my feet are shod and I take too little time to kick off my shoes and feel real reality. This poem did stop me in my tracks today and I even disobeyed my instinct to go past the “read aloud” instruction. And the video is beautiful.

    Another time a poem really got to me was when I went away from home for the first time to do a year of training with Youth With A Mission…a year that I never really came back from now in the mission for 20 years 🙂 My dad sent me a care package and in it was a cassette tape of my mother singing to me while Dad played piano and then my Dad reading to me Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life” as a kind of prayer over me.

    It really doesn’t get anymore precious than that.

    Thanks for the poem.

    P.S. I finished Monster in the Hollows and wow…beautiful. Can’t wait for more of the story!

  15. Brian Baute

    I was stopped not by the poem itself, but by this line about Jamie: “She’s a poem written in a language I’m only beginning to learn.” It’s a great turn of a phrase, and it’s true of all wives and husbands, and of all children & parents, and I know it’s true of myself. God intimately knows the language in which he created me, but I’m only slowly learning that language myself, and I hope I never stop exploring and discovering new facets of it.

  16. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    I love everything I’ve read of Hopkins. I intend to read his full body of work as soon as I’m done with Yeats. I’ve fallen completely in love with Yeats in the past months. He’s got a wonderful knack for writing about things that are old – faded beauty, dying myths, forgotten people and places. There’s a sense of Tolkien-esque, bittersweet mourning about his work that I’m a sucker for.

    Here’s one of my favorites:

    He Remembers Forgotten Beauty
    by W.B. Yeats

    When my arms wrap you round I press
    My heart upon the loveliness
    That has long faded from the world;
    The jeweled crowns that kings have hurled
    In shadowy pools, when armies fled;
    The love-tales wrought with silken thread
    By dreaming ladies upon cloth
    That has made fat the murderous moth;
    The roses that of old time were
    Woven by ladies in their hair,
    The dew-cold lilies ladies bore
    Through many a sacred corridor
    Where such grey clouds of incense rose
    That only God’s eyes did not close:
    For that pale breast and lingering hand
    Come from a more dream-heavy land,
    A more dream-heavy hour than this;
    And when you sigh from kiss to kiss
    I hear white Beauty sighing, too,
    For hours when all must fade like dew,
    But flame on flame, and deep on deep,
    Throne over throne where in half sleep,
    Their swords upon their iron knees,
    Brood her high lonely mysteries.

  17. Tom Murphy

    Another thing that I notice as well. I don’t cherish poetry. The Cause: I don’t take the time to interact with it. To read it the way it screams to be read – with pauses, meditation, and interaction. Sadly, the same is true with my reading of the Scriptures. That is why I need others to wake me from my self indulgent slumber.

    It is not very often that I slow down enough to take in the greatness of good poetry or, better yet, the greatness of God. Good poetry, like Scripture, is better when read together and to each other. And dare I, sung to, and over, one another (Col 3:16)…

    “Enter the Hutch”
    by An Italian Irishman

    Enter broken Body, Enter warm hearth.
    Bring in we broken, bring in Word spoken.
    Though chinwaggin’ be shoddy, born is our mirth!

  18. Cindy Sharp

    Ain’t college grand! After years of being exposed to the things that our parents thought important we go off on our own and our minds open up to the world. All of a sudden we are reading 100 year old books and thinking that we have discovered something grand and exciting….something new. Turns out, our parents were trying to show it to us all along.

    Yes, I have had a poem jump off the pages and leave me speechless. It was written by Hopkins! “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 all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
    All things counter, original, spare, stragne;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet sour; sdazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.

    I was introduced to it in college…and been in love with freckles ever since!

  19. Fellow Traveler

    Bob Kauflin set this to music? *rushes to google it*

    As I tried to say (something happened to my comment), this poem is great, and to answer Jamie’s question about what it means, I believe the part about man vs. nature is a response to the Industrial Revolution. It’s the sort of thing a lot of romantic poets did, except Hopkins was greater.

  20. Melinda

    Beautiful poem. I enjoyed reading your reflections on it just as much as I enjoyed reading it. I love the way your love for your wife shines through when you write about her.

    My husband is away camping with the kids, so I read the poem aloud to myself and the dogs. The dogs were unimpressed, but I also felt the need to read it more than once. I especially love the use of alliteration.

    C.S. Lewis’s poetry always touches me deeply. I finally replaced my book of his poems after it got so worn that there were holes in the pages. One of my favourites is “Stephen to Lazarus.”

    But was I the first martyr, who
    Gave up no more than life, while you,
    Already free among the dead,
    Your rags stripped off, your fetters shed,
    Surrendered what all other men
    Irrevocably keep, and when
    Your battered ship at anchor lay
    Seemingly safe in the dark bay
    No ripple stirs, obediently
    Put out a second time to sea
    Well knowing that your death (in vain
    Died once) must all be died again?

  21. Lisa

    Part of the advanced placement tests for language and literature was a poetry analysis. Most of the poems covered in practice tests were uninteresting; I read them and slogged through them as quickly as possible. (The only remotely memorable one was Sylvia Plath’s Sow, available here: http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/sylviaplath/4349).

    When it came time to take the real one, however, I stopped in my tracks. Never had a poet’s words grabbed me, and certainly never in such an unexpected place as clinical academia:

    “First fight, then fiddle. Ply the slipping string
    With feathery sorcery. Muzzle the note
    With hurting love…”

    I rushed through the essay analysis…I think I took less than half the time allotted for it. I spent the rest of it memorizing the poem so I could find it again. It took two years – this was slightly pre-Google – but it stuck with me the entire time, and will probably stick with me the rest of my life.

    The Children of the Poor (4)
    Gwendolyn Brooks

    First fight. Then fiddle. Ply the slipping string
    With feathery sorcery; muzzle the note
    With hurting love; the music that they wrote
    Bewitch, bewilder. Qualify to sing
    Threadwise. Devise no salt, no hempen thing
    For the dear instrument to bear. Devote
    The bow to silks and honey. Be remote
    A while from malice and from murdering.
    But first to arms, to armor. Carry hate
    In front of you and harmony behind.
    Be deaf to music and to beauty blind.
    Win war. Rise bloody, maybe not too late
    For having first to civilize a space
    Wherein to play your violin with grace.

    (Full poem: http://www.smith.edu/poetrycenter/poets/thechildren.html)

  22. Jim Hamilton

    Andrew,

    I’m hoping (but doubting) that you stumbled on this poem as the epigraph to my book (Crossway sent it to you, right?) God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment. It’s set at the beginning as the “answer” to W. B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming,” right before chapter 1.

    You’ll remember that I asked permission to quote lines from your song, “Deliver Us,” which is the epigraph for chapter 3.

    In my book, you’re in good company!

    Jim

  23. David

    Thank you for posting this. “God’s Grandeur” is a spectacular poem — so much so I named my blog after it (the poem deserves a better blog than mine).

    Another poem that always arrests me (as I imagine it would anyone who plays stringed instruments) is “Easter” by George Herbert. The first three verses:

    Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
    Without Delays,
    Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
    With him mayst rise;
    That, as he death calcined thee to dust,
    His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

    Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
    With all thy art.
    The cross taught all wood to resound his name,
    Who bore the same.
    His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
    Is best to celebrate this most high day.

    Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
    Pleasant and long:
    Or since music is but three parts vied
    And multiplied,
    O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
    And make up our defects with his sweet art.

  24. Brad

    I think I’m somewhere in between. I appreciate poetry, but not often moved by it. I am moved by poetry in song though, so maybe I’m just not spending enough time reading good poetry. I’ve been familiar with the end of this piece for sometime but had never read the whole thing…beautiful.

    And my wife would have been with Jamie on this one and many other artistic expressions that I can get excited over, though she is much more engaged on such things these days. I guess 20 years of marriage to an over-emotional artist will do that.

  25. Chinwe

    You’re right, Andrew – hearing the poem being read out loud did the trick. Thanks for posting that lovely video tribute.

    Speaking of poetry, I’m re-reading “Gilead.” Now, THAT’S some beautiful poetry-in-prose!

  26. Cheryl Walton

    Thank you, gripping, went to amazon & ordered.. His writing style reminds me a bit of Dylan Thomas. Was stopped in my tracks years ago by Fern Hill: “…down the rivers of the windfall light”.
    http://www.bigeye.com/fernhill.htm

    In Dylan’s voice:

    Doesn’t have the spiritual impact of Hopkins, but I still think it’s a powerful word picture.

  27. Laura Ward

    I LOVE this poem – it stopped me in my tracks the first time my high school English teacher read it out loud, and it’s been my favourite ever since! The sounds (and the sense) of it became even dearer when I found out Hopkins was intentionally evoking aspects of his adopted Welsh through his construction of the English phrases (For those interested in learning more, this Wikipedia article is a good starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_Manley_Hopkins#Poetry). Brilliant & moving.

    A relatively contemporary poet whose work often arrests me is Denise Levertov. 2 favorites are “Midnight Gladness” (http://www.aprweb.org/poem/midnight-gladness) and “Variation and Reflection on a Theme by Rilke”, which I think has a kinship to”God’s Granduer” (http://tiny.cc/ts6wx).

  28. Sarah

    Hopkins has long been one of my favorite poets. I picked up a biography about him several years ago and read that he walked out his door each day, looked at the earth and sky and world and considered it “news from God.” That’s the sort of poet I love.

    Every time there’s a stormy, dappled day, this poem by him fills my head (you’ve probably seen it, but here it is just for fun):

    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.

    Also, you’d probably really enjoy Frederick Buechner’s chapter on Hopkins in the book “Speak What We Feel.”

  29. Loren Warnemuende

    I love poetry…sometimes…and other times not so much. I like to know the meaning (like Jamie), but I love the sound of the words rolling off the tongue and the images they create, and the wonderful “a-Ha!” moment when I suddenly understand a poem. But most often I don’t have time to sit and ponder, and so I’m frustrated, or I stick to songs and narrative poetry. I long to be like some of my favorite authors (Sayers, Mary Stewart) who throw quotes about as if naturally we’re all familiar with them. But I’m not–I’m a 21st century mom, and that’s okay.

    “God’s Grandeur” reminds me of Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much With Us.” Just from what I remember:
    The world is to much with us, late and soon,
    Getting and spending we lay waste our powers
    Little we see in nature that is ours.
    We have given our souls away, a sordid boon!

    As for pure words, sound and image, no meaning attached, there’s Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.” The first stanza often rolls off my tongue:
    In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
    A stately pleasure-dome decree:
    Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
    Through caverns measureless to man
    Down to a sunless sea.

    But as for a life-changing poem…hmmm…hard to say. There’s a lot of Robert Frost that could fit that category; I love his simple depth. I guess John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud,” is one that has affected me the most in life. I thrill to throw it in the face of that powerless monster:
    Death be not proud, though some have called thee
    Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
    For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
    Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
    From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
    Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
    And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
    Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
    Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
    And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
    And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
    And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
    One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
    And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

  30. Laura Barton

    Tom, I think you are right about cherishing poetry having a lot to do with how willing we are to really interact with it. My favorite poems are the ones that I have read out loud over and over again, the ones I’ve given a serious chunk of time and my most focused attention to, even if I don’t love them on the first read. That’s a hard thing to do when we’re so used to instant gratification! (But for the record, I do not mean that I think people who don’t like poetry are simply too addicted to instant gratification. :P)

    As for a poem that has stopped me in my tracks… One that sticks out to me is “The Country of Marriage” by Wendell Berry. Several years ago when I was working as a custodian in a library (yeah, I know, of all places :P), a good friend and I took a break, sat down in a cozy little study room, and read the whole thing out loud. She had just gotten married, probably just weeks earlier, and I remember the way it made her cry. It “stopped me in my tracks” not just because it is a beautiful poem (which it is!), but because it also gave me a way of knowing my friend better. Poetry is best when it is shared, I think.

  31. Jason

    “The Disciple” by George MacDonald.
    http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/14193/
    It’s still largely a mystery to me, which is strange since the structure is really so basic, but I have never read a poem that was so convicting and full of hope. I’m enjoying unraveling it.

    Some selections:
    “Yes, I say well–said words are cheap!
    For action man was born!
    What praise will my one talent reap?
    What grapes are on my thorn?

    Have high words kept me pure enough?
    In evil have I no part?
    Hath not my bosom “perilous stuff
    That weighs upon the heart”?

    I am not that which I do praise;
    I do not that I say;
    I sit a talker in the ways,
    A dreamer in the day!”

    and…

    “The preacher’s words are true, I know–
    That man may lose his life;
    That every man must downward go
    Without the upward strife.

    ‘Twere well my soul should cease to roam,
    Should seek and have and hold!
    It may be there is yet a home
    In that religion old.

    Again I kneel, again I pray:
    _Wilt thou be God to me?
    Wilt thou give ear to what I say,
    And lift me up to thee_?

    Lord, is it true? Oh, vision high!
    The clouds of heaven dispart;
    An opening depth of loving sky
    Looks down into my heart!

    There _is_ a home wherein to dwell–
    The very heart of light!
    Thyself my sun immutable,
    My moon and stars all night!

    I thank thee, Lord. It must be so,
    Its beauty is so good.
    Up in my heart thou mad’st it go,
    And I have understood.

    The clouds return. The common day
    Falls on me like a _No_;
    But I have seen what might be–may,
    And with a hope I go.”

  32. Ann

    Dearest Jamie,

    You did better than I. I had NO idea what it was about. And I even read it aloud at the end like Andrew instructed.

    Love, Ann

  33. Jen

    Loren: I remember having to memorize “Death Be Not Proud” in high school. I’m so glad I did — that one has words that come to me when I need them most — but I always hear it in that teacher’s voice when I read it! 🙂

  34. Tom Murphy

    “I remember the way it made her cry. It “stopped me in my tracks” not just because it is a beautiful poem (which it is!), but because it also gave me a way of knowing my friend better. Poetry is best when it is shared…”

    Amen Laura!

    Yes, the Grandeur of God, the beauty of poetry, the majesty of marriage are all connected in this – they unite us together to know each other better (and to know God more intimately as He sanctifies us through relationship). The Scriptural metanarrative strand running throughout the Bible with respect to “Knowledge” is a deep, committed, and intimate love. The knowing at a level between a Groom and His Bride. We are not yet finished until we attain the unity that Paul describes in Ephesians 4:16. Poetry is one aspect of building the Body up in love…

    Colossians 3:16 makes it quite clear, although it is obscured by most English translations, that we are to teach and admonish (counsel) WITH, BY MEANS OF, THROUGH psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as a means of attaining the unity. God exalting Poetry is a precursor and critical element to our understanding Him better. Major sections of the Bible, including most of the prophets, is Hebrew poetry.

    Poets are teachers! Poets are ministers of the Gospel!

    Or not….

    I’m more counselor and cook, than poet, but pursuing growing together in love in fits and starts as God chips off the sharp edges.

  35. Sofia

    I first really encountered Hopkins through his poem, “The Caged Skylark”:

    AS a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage
    Man’s mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells—
    That bird beyond the remembering his free fells;
    This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.

    Though aloft on turf or perch or poor low stage, 5
    Both sing sometímes the sweetest, sweetest spells,
    Yet both droop deadly sómetimes in their cells
    Or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage.

    Not that the sweet-fowl, song-fowl, needs no rest—
    Why, hear him, hear him babble and drop down to his nest, 10
    But his own nest, wild nest, no prison.

    Man’s spirit will be flesh-bound when found at best,
    But uncumbered: meadow-down is not distressed
    For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bónes rísen.

  36. Loren Eaton

    Hopkins’ “Carrion Comfort” is wonderful, too:

    NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
    Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
    In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
    Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
    But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
    Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
    With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
    O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

    Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
    Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
    Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
    Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
    Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
    Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

  37. carrie luke

    lovely poem. lovely post. lovely partner.

    Poetry definitely has a strolling mindset that is counter cultural/intuitive. I think you have to slow down in order to receive from it instead of get from it. Like a walk down a familiar lane, it is about seeing something familiar in a different light and the new vision has the potential to move and stir.

    As displayed in this work, we often times go along trying desperately to leave our fingerprints in something so that we’ll be seen and feel like we matter. When often all we leave is a foot print because we have forgotten to remove our shoes on the Holy Ground so that we can feel something real with bare feet.

    Whether we take the time for awareness or not the true beauty is that God has ordained it that new life will always spring from the East with healing in its bright wings. To God be the Glory.

    Thanks Andrew, for such a picture of the mystery of redemption seen written on a printed page and in a marriage.

    As for a poem that stirs me…I like Tread Softly by Yeats. Ironically, it reminds me of your wife and her love and support of you and the kids. It’s true that loving poetry is not a prerequisite for living a life in humble, beautiful verse. Because rarely has a woman had softer, more gentle souls on her feet than Jamie, it seems. Oh, I meant….soles.:)

    HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with golden and silver light,
    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and the half-light,
    I would spread the cloths under your feet:
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet,
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams

    W.B. Yeats

  38. Amanda McGill

    This is my favorite poem. More than anything else, when I recite it to myself, I remember God’s restoring and recreating glory in the world. I think of it most in the mornings, believing in each day as a small picture of that ultimate morning, when God’s reign and rule fully dawn. When I recite this poem to myself, I preach the Gospel to myself.

    I also love “Pied Beauty,” which others have put up here. And, the original poem which drew my attention to Hopkins was “As kingfishers catch fire,” which draws a close second for me with “God’s Grandeur.”

    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: 5
    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; 10
    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.

  39. Micah

    I can’t believe that is from the 19th century. It doesn’t sound dated to me at all. Someone else said that it had the “fury of beat poetry” and it was almost half a century before the beat poets were writing. That in itself is amazing to me.

  40. Fellow Traveler

    Tom, it was occurring to me that I wouldn’t be able to find Bob’s setting even if I did google it, so the logical thing to do is bug the heck out of either Bob or Andrew to put it on a project.

  41. Mark Geil

    I had thought to add a comment about poems that had stopped me in my tracks, but ironically my very typing was stopped in its tracks by a song playing in the background. It was “Rochester” from the new Mat Kearney album. I had paused the playing of the album to read this wonderful poem, paused it while I pondered, then resumed it while I considered whether my humble pondering was worthy of a comment.

    Then this very interesting song stopped me in my tracks (as music often does). And this thought occurred to me: to be stopped by a thing requires that thing to move from the background to the foreground, and I have too much noise in the background. When I was in high school, being greatly moved by Frost and Donne and Thoreau and Sandburg, their words occupied my foreground first because they were forced upon me by a teacher. Then they stayed there because they resonated with me as a young man.

    Today, too often I let the assault of media and multitasking blur the foreground, and I don’t give anything a chance to claw its way out of the back. I love this statement: “A collection of Hopkins’s poems is on my nightstand.” Three cheers for nightstands, and quiet, and attention.

  42. Aaron

    Thanks for this, very much. I’ve not read or heard this poem before.

    It helps that, when I close my eyes and listen to Stanley Kunitz speak, I see an aged, wise Winnie the Pooh (stuffing getting a little lumpy, stitching a little loose, fabric a little worn) reading poetry. I’ll listen to him again.

  43. Rebecca

    I love Mr. Hopkins. If I ever compile an anthology of my favorite poems, he would have a few in it.
    I remember that line “the dearest freshness deep down things” coming to mind when I watched the Ents sack Isengard. The last lines of Inversnaid came to mind when I drove by what used to be a stretch of green reeds and water where you could watch ducks paddle about and listen to the red-winged blackbirds call and saw that it had been churned up into mud by heavy equipment to make room for more houses. “What would the world be, once bereft / Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left, / O let them be left, wildness and wet; / Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

    As for being stopped in my tracks by a poem, is it ok if I share more than one?
    It’s just that lately there’s been so many! : )

    I’ve recently discovered Mary Oliver, and she has produced in me the same wonder-filled thrill of joy and recognition that Hopkins does, although her word weaving is decidedly less intricate. Like this:

    Praying

    It doesn’t have to be
    the blue iris, it could be
    weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
    small stones; just
    pay attention, then patch

    a few words together and don’t try
    to make them elaborate, this isn’t
    a contest but the doorway

    into thanks, and a silence in which
    another voice may speak.

    Isn’t it funny how you can hear the same idea communicated over and over again by different people in different ways and never really get it until you hear it in just such a way so that it finally makes sense to you? Also, has anyone ever heard of Lorna Goodison? I found her in an anthology of World Literature, and this one poem, Heartease New England 1987, filled my need for beauty that day. It’s a bit long, so I don’t want to post the whole thing and although it’s always terrible to split something into sections, here’s a bit:

    I too can never quite get the measure of this world’s structure
    somewhere I belong to community, there
    I am part of a grouping of many souls and galaxies
    I am part of something ever evolving, familiar, and most mighty
    I reaffirm this knowing one evening, a Wednesday
    as I go up Shephard Street. Someone is playing
    Bob Marley and the notes are levitating
    across the Garden Street end of the street.
    They appear first as notes and then feather into birds
    pointing their wings, arranging themselves for traveling
    long distances.
    And birds are the soul’s symbol, so I see
    that I am only a sojourner here but I came as a friend
    came to record and sing and then, depart.
    For my mission this last life is certainly this
    to be the sojourner poet caroling for peace
    calling lost souls to the way of Heartease.

    I don’t know if she’s perhaps making some sort of reference to some Bob Marley lyrics in there as I’m not very familiar with him, but isn’t the last image she leaves you with just WONDERFUL? My poetry raptures could go on, but I’ll restrain myself. I sure love what you folks do here at the Rabbit Room. Thanks for engaging us in such discussions.

  44. SarahN

    Thanks for this! I had never heard of this poem or this poet. I love the story of you and your wife, too–it reminded me of similar conversations between my boyfriend and I! He likes black-and-white, to-the-point, and poetry is not for him; he’s the engineer, I’m the artist. Still, he listens when I share. We enjoy things in different ways, and enhance each other’s enjoyment. He may scorn symbolism and metaphor for the sake of bold facts, but on our first date he read C.S. Lewis aloud to me in a bookstore because he wanted to. Some things are universal. 🙂

  45. Emily

    The thing I love about poetry is just that — it is so relient on self-discovery for its magic. Almost everyone in my elementary, middle, high school classes hated poetry. As a bit of a language enthusiast, I liked it alright, but it’s amazing how I can only remember one or two that really hit me. My mom bought me an Emily Dickinson poetry book for Christmas, and I happened to pick it up this summer. It was my virgin adventure through its pages, and I was taken aback by how excited and connected I was. I would start reading a poem… if it didn’t hit me, move on. If it did, I let myself sink into it. Then I would tweet a line, which really ruins the whole old-world magic of this story, but the point is that you just have to “get there” by yourself with poetry, I think. And when/if you do, it’s quite amazing.

    That said, I would say my first true poetry excitement-experience was with Naomi Shihab Nye’s “The Rider” (A victory! To leave your loneliness panting behind you on some street corner…)

  46. Lorilie

    I too love Hopkins’ poetry and agree with the choices of all of the poems referenced in the comments. I’d also add “Hurrahing in Harvest”:

    SUMMER ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise
    Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
    Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
    Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

    I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
    Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
    And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
    Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

    And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
    Majestic—as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!—
    These things, these things were here and but the beholder
    Wanting; which two when they once meet,
    The heart rears wings bold and bolder
    And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.

    I’ve recently found a CD of Hopkins’ verse read by Richard Austin. He has a real gift for interpreting the difficult rhythms and vocabulary of Hopkins’ verse. I highly recommend it: http://www.richard.austin.sh/

  47. Laura Peterson

    I’m sitting here at my computer exclaiming aloud at this great post and all the wonderful poem-y comments. (And just now looked at the clock and realized I’ll be late for Bible study because of all the Googling of poems and poets that I HAD to do after reading this. Oops.)

    Re: Hopkins – Wow. All that great alliteration literally gives me goosebumps.

    Laura B – Whenever you read this, give me a call and we’ll go wandering around the Van Wylen stacks and read good poems to each other. Please?

    Pete and Carrie – Yeats! Yes! I have “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” framed on the wall behind me. The first poem that came to mind as having stopped me in my tracks was his “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Every time I read it I feel that I’m back in a sunshiny attic classroom in the middle of Dublin, listening to a lit professor/sheep farmer named Colin read it aloud, and everyone’s eyes are closed except for mine, which are wide open in shock because it’s so beautiful. That was five or six years ago, and it is still such a strong memory for me.

  48. Marsha Panola

    Thanks, Andrew, for this. That little phrase,”like shining from shook foil”, has been in my head for years! It was quoted in one of our Baptist youth publications when I was in high school or junior high, and I loved the sound of it. The poem is lovely, as are so many of the comments and other poems shared here.

    Lindsey (at #13), that e.e.cummings poem is a favorite of mine, too. I used to sing that one to my own tune, by myself in my room with my guitar. And I still remember how it went!

    And Biscuit, Chris Rice does have a special way with words:

    It was love that set our fragile planet rolling
    Tilting at our perfect twenty-three
    Molecules and men infused with holy
    Finding our way around the galaxy
    And Paradise has up and flown away for now
    But hope still breathes and truth is always true
    And just when we think it’s almost over
    Love has the final move

    And there are so many fine word-handlers here at the Rabbit Room, I never get tired of coming here. Thanks for doing this for our joy and God’s glory.

  49. tbeach

    Wow. Everyone has such eloquent responses to this poem. I guess I could just sum this up by saying that it was rad. I’m not a scholar and definitely wouldn’t consider myself a poetry lover but incredibly cool.

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