Thursday, February 4, 2010

Poetry Perspiration

I will have to admit that I have little (meaning absolutely none) experience with critical analysis so bear with me.
The poem from our reading that most caught my attention was "God's Grandeur" by Gerard Hopkins. It caught my attention because I am having a terrible time deciding what it is he is trying to say. Here are some thoughts:

He first uses the word "charged" which could mean many things like electrically charged or charged with an accusation. He says the grandeur of God "gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed." For me, just evaluating the word choice I cannot make out any decisive meaning. There is something about recking his rod which follows. I am confused by the "not" in this statement which seems to give the opposite meaning of what was intended. Hopkins then goes on to explain how the earth has become tainted by the mark of man. Man can't feel it either because their feet are shod.
The poet then goes on to speak of a "freshness" that survives deep down. He makes the point that morning always follows the night, bringing hope. He then makes a reference to the Holy Ghost which I am familiar with and which is mentioned in the Bible. I was confused the most reading this part for the first time because I could not see where he was coming from.

I read up on Gerard Hopkins and found out that he was a 19th century Victorian poet who converted to Catholicism and became a Jesuit Priest. Things in the poem like the reference to the Holy Ghost started to make sense. Also, many critics mentioned that the oozing oil was the oil of an olive, an interpretation that makes the most sense to me. They also said that the word "charged" was referring to electricity because electricity was under a scientific spotlight at the time. All of this stuff I never would have picked up if it hadn't been for studying his historical background.

This analysis was probably the most obvious to me from the get go because he uses prolific alliteration and diction throughout the entire piece. I immediately noticed the vivid word choice in words like "charged" and "flame out" which give an untamed, bright feeling. He contrasts this with words like "ooze of oil" which describes a slow, rich concentrating. The repetition of trod in the next line creates the sound of trodding which is pretty cool. He also rhymes the words "seared", "bleared" and "smeared" int he next line which continues the idea that every thing we do to the earth is all the same and all disgusting. I could go on with all the other examples of diction and alliteration. I think in this poem he uses these devices to evoke emotion in his readers and also to create memorable phrases that will stick in their heads.

Holy cow, that was long. Oops.

Honestly, at first I didn't really see the value in this poem but after giving it some time, I can see why it would be considered worthwhile literature. I found that I had to make the effort to overcome the time gap between me and Hopkins: about 130 years.


  1. Many times poems mean more to me if I give them more time as well. I like how you mention the "freshness that survives deep down."

  2. Sister Steadman said that Poetry has been defined as the best words in the best order. Reading your post just made me think of how Hopkins Poem, as short as it maybe, relays a message that can be seen through so many lenses. Who would have thought all that literary criticism could come from 14 lines of poetry!

  3. Hey I just wanted to say that for someone to say that you don't have much experience with literary criticism, you sure had a lot to say.

  4. It was actually Samuel Taylor Coleridge who defined poetry as the best words in the best order.

  5. You definitely did some analysis on Hopkin's poem and found some significant meaning. Keep up the good work.