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Symbol Analysis

Hopkins probably wrote the poem in the late 1800s. Industrialization was going strong, but was nothing like what we see today. Like American poet, Walt Whitman, a favorite of his, Hopkins placed great hope in the natural world. As is probably obvious, this poem thinks that the needs of industry and the needs of nature (and people) are at odds.

  • Line 3: This line refers directly to oil. Today oil has become almost a character in our lives. It can be arch villain or hero or both, depending on your perspective. It is certainly both for the speaker in the poem. Here oil is a simile. It’s "ooze" is said to be similar to the way the world "gathers to a greatness." So oil has some positive connotations here. It is a natural resource, and so the speaker would see beauty in it, even as he or she doesn’t like what it’s being used for.
  • Line 5: "Trod," when repeated, sounds like what it is, shoes hitting the pavement, and so we have another example of onomatopoeia. The repetition also evokes the feeling of drudgery, and exhaustion, that come from all that walking. The next line explains why everybody is doing so much walking.
  • Line 6: "Trade" sounds an awful lot like "trod" doesn’t it? This isn’t an accident. The two words are connected. Trade means money, but it also means work, or as the poem calls it, "toil." Toil is joyless work, work with nothing in it for the person who does it. It is also repetitive, which explains the repetition of "trod" even more thoroughly. "Toil" also rhymes with "oil" and so alludes to the toil that goes into the industry of oil, specifically. This rhyme also creates imagery. Even though the poem says that "all is" "smeared with toil" we imagine everything being smeared with oil.
  • Line 9: The pun on the word "spent" at the end of this line of the second stanza connects it with the industrial angst of the first stanza. The speaker’s mood seems to have lightened. Only what is owned can be "spent" (theoretically anyway) and the earth isn’t owned. The damage can never seep past the surface. We might lose our connection with nature as we try to sell it off, but, since it’s "charged with the grandeur of God" we can’t really hurt it, only ourselves.

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