"The World is charged with the grandeur of God."
"Glory be to God for dappled things –"
"Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend"
Religion was very important to Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1877. This was true in both his life and in his poetry – the above lines are from the beginnings of a few of Hopkins's most famous poems ("God's Grandeur," "Pied Beauty," and "Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord, If I Contend"). In fact, the majority of what we consider his greatest poems were actually written during the twelve-year period just after his ordination and until the time of his death from typhoid in 1889.
From the inventive and passionate rush of his language in "Spring" and in his other works, you can tell that Hopkins didn't experience his spiritual life in a calm, simple way. In poems like "Spring," God and the lushness of creation are felt with the force of a lightning strike.
And, as we see in "Spring," being a priest did not mean that Hopkins felt certain about everything, or that all his questions were answered. In fact, Hopkins allowed all manner of questioning to enter his poems. "Spring" deals with many of Hopkins's main concerns: awe, wonder, and praise of the beauty of the natural world; sin and the possibility of being saved from sin; and anguish and lack of understanding when it comes to the ways of the universe and God.
Imagine it's late March where you are. It's been a long, cold winter and, man, you are just feeling bummed. Every morning, you get out of bed, put your feet on an icy floor, and look out the window at a gray, leafless, bleak landscape. Outside, everyone you pass is bundled up into their own little world. No laughter. No singing. Just dull, boring, winter.
And then… what's that? Today, there's a blue sky above! When you step outside, you're not hit with a numbing chill! In fact, it seems almost warm! And hey! There are green shoots peeking out through the ground! The birds are back, and they're singing! You use exclamation points at the end of all your sentences!
Spring, friends, is here. And what's that excitement that swells in your chest, that up-beat song that starts to play in your head? Why, that's the spirit of the new season and the promise of rebirth. For most of us (if we don't suffer from allergies too much), the arrival of spring is a great feeling, but that's all that it is. We don't really have a way to put that unique emotion into words.
Lucky for us, there are poets who can do that for us. Gerard Manley Hopkins is one such fellow who captures in language the joy, energy, and all-around awesomeness that comes with the arrival of everyone's favorite season. Reading this poem will take you back to that great feeling. It should also knock your socks off with the way its musical language really describes what for most of us is something that we feel, can't quite say.
As well, there's a deeper, religious notion driving this poem, but Manley doesn't hit you over the head with piety. Instead, this is a celebration of life, which—if you are reading this—you can definitely relate to. Even if you have those post-Valentine's blues—especially if you have them—this poem will warm your heart and put a… spring in your step. And yes, that pun was intentional. Shmoop just can't help ourselves.
The Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation provides a biography of Hopkins, a good selection of poems, and suggestions for further scholarly reading.
A fantastic site with tons of scholarly information on Hopkins's life, religion, the social history of his times, and much more.
A short biography on Hopkins, and many of his best-known poems.
Tired of reading? Try listening!
Audio recordings of thirty-three poems by Hopkins, including "Spring."
"it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing"
Listen to a recording the of thrush's song.
Hopkins, By Hopkins
A sketch that Hopkins drew of himself.
A handwritten letter by Hopkins
"The Ecstasy of Gerard Manley Hopkins"
A New York Times article on Hopkins's life and poetry.
An excerpt from a letter written by Hopkins, discussing sprung rhythm.
Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life
A new biography, written by Paul Mariani.