Gerard M. Hopkins (1844-1889)
In this sonnet, Hopkins praises the magnificence and glory of God in the world, blending accurate observation with lofty imagination. The world is filled with the greatness of God. God’s glory expresses itself in two ways. Sometimes it flames out with sudden brightness when a gold foil is shaken. At other times, the poet thinks of an olive press, with the oil oozing (flowing out) from the pressed fruit. It oozes from every part of the press in a fine film and then the trickles gathers together to form a jar of oil. In the same way, the grandeur of God is found everywhere, trickling from every simple thing in a created universe and accumulating to form greatness. The poet wonders why people do not care about God’s rod. People pursue their worldly activities without any thought of God’s will and without the fear of god’s anger.
Generations of human beings have followed the same worldly path and have become so habituated to it that they don’t know its uselessness. It has become monotonous due to lack of the divine will. The world has been degraded and made ugly by commercial activity and by hard work aimed at worldly gains. The world bears the marks of man’s dirt and gives out man’s bad smells. The beauty of nature is spoiled by man’s industrial activity and the sweet smell of nature has been drowned in the bad smells that come from machines. The earth is now bare, having lost all living beauty. Man is insensitive to this bareness. Because of the shoes, he can’t feel whether the earth is soft or hard.
In spite of man’s activities tending to destroy the beauty of Nature, it is inexhaustible. At the bottom of the world there is freshness. This freshness never disappears. When spring comes nature renews itself and thus shows underlying freshness. And although the sun goes down the western sky and the earth is plunged in darkness, the next day will dawn and the sun will be rising again in the eastern sky. Just as a dove with its warm breast broods over its young ones in its nest, so the Holy Ghost broods protectively over the world which is bent in sleep and forgetfulness.
The repetition of the words ‘have trod’ captures the mechanical forces in verse because of their heavy accents. What is sometimes called the ‘daily grind’ is the repetitive thump in which the feet of generation march on; and the ‘trod… trod… trod’ sets up the three beat rhythm of the next line: ‘seared… bleared… smeared! ‘Seared’ means ‘dried up’ or it can mean ‘rendered incapable of feeling’. ‘Bleared’ means ‘blurred with inflammation of the eyes’ and ‘smeared’ means ‘rubbed over with dirt’. They suggest that there is no delicacy of feeling or perception in the world. The whole world has been degraded and made ugly by commercial activity and by toil aimed at monetary gains.