Italian Sonnet, Sprung Rhythm
God’s Grandeur follows the basic form of an Italian sonnet. An Italian sonnet has fourteen lines, eight in the first section (called the "octave"), and six lines in the second section (called the "sestet"). Traditionally the octave and the sestet are not separated into separate stanza’s like here. Hopkins’ division emphasizes the contrast between the first and second stanza.
The poem does follow the rhyme scheme of the tradition Italian sonnet, that is ABBAABBA and then CDCDCD. In the first stanza, the first, fourth, fifth and eighth lines rhyme with each other, and the second, third, sixth and seventh lines rhyme with each other. In the second stanza, the ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth lines rhyme with each other, and the tenth, twelfth, and fourteenth lines rhyme with each other.
That’s just the surface of Hopkins’s rhyme scheme. There is rhyming going on inside the poem too. End rhymes "God," "rod" and "shod" also rhyme with the repeated "trod" of line five. You could analyze this complex relationship for a unique paper. How might this relate the painful internal rhyme of "seared" bleared" and "smeared" of line six?
Other than the third line (which has twelve syllables), each line has ten syllables. Yet, its meter is not what is often found in iambic pentameter. (In iambic pentameter a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable or vice-versa.) Instead, Hopkins uses what he calls "sprung rhythm," his big claim to fame. (See "Calling Card" for more.)
In sprung rhythm, this relationship between stressed and unstressed syllables have more complicated relationships. For Hopkins, this means that whether or not a syllable is stressed or unstressed is guided by the desire to express the distinctive "whatness" (as Hopkins called it) of each thing.
"Shining from shook foil" is a great example. The syllables we stress naturally when speaking are in bold. This rhythm surprises us, even after repeated readings, in the way it makes us use our breath, and in the way it speeds us up or slows us down.
The result of this fusion of tradition and innovation is an ordered disorder. Gerard Manley Hopkins uses the traditional sonnet as a playground for his experiment, where hope and despair often combine in a single word or image, and everything seems both incredibly mysterious, but also surprisingly clear.