"God’s Grandeur" is a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English poet, Jesuit priest, and teacher. The poem was written in 1877, but like most of Hopkins’s poems, it wasn’t published until after his death. The poet’s life was very short. He died of typhoid fever when he was only forty-five years old.
Hopkins is most famous for his innovations with language and rhythm, especially a kind of rhythm he called "sprung rhythm." Instead of the usual practice of alternating between stressed and unstressed syllables, Hopkins had groups of stressed and unstressed syllables together, which he believed help bring to his poems "the natural rhythm of speech." "God's Grandeur" is a great example of "sprung rhythm," and reading it will give you a chance to look at language in new and different ways.
Why Should I Care?
Lots of new words are born every day. It’s impossible to say how many have been created. Human beings want to express themselves, and to be able to understand others. And we keep looking for fun and exciting ways to do it.
Take rap, for instance. One of the greatest things about rap its playful use of language, and its introduction of new words and speech into the common vocabulary. Rappers continually come up with new and interesting ways of expressing ideas.
Language is never stable, but always in motion and changing. Despite the natural tendency of language to continually evolve, it can get stuck and become overly repetitive. We all get stuck in our language from time to time.
Good news: Gerard Manley Hopkins is here to help us get free with our words. A poem like "God’s Grandeur" can seem hard at first. Poets T. S. Eliot and W. B. Yeats both said that Hopkins’s poetry was too obscure, and too far from the common, everyday experience. But really, once you get going with it, it flows. His poetry shows us that we can push language to the limits, be free to use it and bend it, and stop being afraid of it.
He’s most famous for what he called "sprung rhythm," or a rhythm that springs (or flows) naturally from the poet, like plants spring from the soil. Instead of always alternating stressed and unstressed syllables (TA-dum-TA-dum-TA-dum), as is the fashion in much poetry, Hopkins used groups of stressed and unstressed syllables (TA-TA-TA-dum-dum-TA-TA). Don’t worry if that sounds a little confusing. Just relax, and go with the flow.
Hopkins even made up his own words. He coined the sci-fi sounding words "inscape" and "instress" to describe his poetic goals. "Inscape" is the unique inner landscape of any thing on earth. He believed that to show this inner landscape, through words, was to show God. "Instress" is the glue that holds the "inscape" together. For Hopkins, it was another way of saying "God." And for Hopkins God also meant "liveliness," excitement, vitality, and the natural world.
Not all of Hopkins's words were so complicated. He made up the word "firefolk" to talk about stars, "bloomfall" to talk about flowers falling, and "unleaving" to talk about how trees lose their leaves.
Now go make up some words already!