The Divinity of Nature: the World is Too Much with Us by Wordsworth V. God’s Grandeur by Hopkins
Often those who watch from a mountain top, the wind teases each tree in every direction knowing they won’t follow, are the ones in which find solace among nature. Whether they find nature to be a gift from God himself or a phenomenon of life in many forms. There are individuals in every generation that defend the natural world and pity others for the way they have lost sight of its beauty. Such individuals as the poets, William Wordsworth and Gerard Manley Hopkins, both of which wrote poems dedicated to the conservation of the natural world. In 1807 Wordsworth published his sonnet, The World Is Too Much With Us, in which he voiced his anger regarding how mankind had betrayed the natural world. In 1877, seventy years later, Hopkins published his sonnet titled, God’s Grandeur, where he expressed a similar disappointment in the societies lack in appreciation for the natural world. There is an overwhelming sense of vexation from both poems that clearly resonates with Wordsworth and Hopkins along with their readers as well. While both poems were rooted in the same disdain it is important to make note of the approach each poet took while writing their pieces, religiously, personally, and otherwise. In many ways the poems, God’s Grandeur and The World Is Too Much With Us, overlap but to compare the two it is critical that the reader be mindful of the points at which they differ. The similarities and differences lie within the structure, theme, symbolism, and use of language, which develop the overall meaning of each poem.
Structurally, God’s Grandeur and The World Is Too Much With Us, are very similar. Both pieces are written in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet which is divided into two stanzas, the first being an octave and the second being a sestet. The form of a Petrarchan sonnet is specifically organized to allow the first stanza of eight lines to introduce a problem or theme in the piece, while the second stanza of six lines is to offer a solution. To which Hopkins follows very well by establishing his problem in the first eight lines followed by his solution in the last six. Wordsworth slightly shifted this structure by having the octave flow into the sestet which begins by proposing the problem but ends with a rather sarcastic solution. It is Wordsworth variation that sets his poem apart from Hopkins. They begin to overlap again within the rhyme scheme of each poem which is ‘abba abba cdcdcd,’ which is to fit the intended purpose of each stanza. Wordsworth and Hopkins make use of the intended Petrarchan rhyme scheme which makes both sonnets have a relatively specific rhythm. Along with the rhyme scheme, meter is important to the rhythm of the poem. Petrarchan sonnets have a traditional meter known as iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is structured as five pairs of syllables, the first syllable in each pair being unstressed and the second stressed. Despite both sonnets being classified as Petrarchan they each break from the iambic pentameter. Wordsworth utilized iambic pentameter when he wrote, “This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; / The winds that will be howling at all hours,” (5-6). In these lines the iambic pentameter is quite songlike which is similar throughout the rest of the sonnet. Wordsworth strayed from the traditional meter when he wrote, “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;— / Little we see in Nature that is ours;” (2-3). Within these two lines the first syllable is stressed. Hopkins slightly strayed from the iambic pentameter as well with naturally stressed syllables and purposeful pauses in the middle of lines. His change in meter occurred in the poem when he wrote, “Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;” (5). It is in this line that the repetition of the phrase “have trod,” following the syllable heavy “Generations,” breaks the meter to emphasize the exact motion in which mankind had left their negative impact on the natural world. It is fascinating to see the similarity in meter variation between the two sonnets while they still differed in many ways. Though both sonnets remain structurally similar the slight differences between them play a huge role in distinguishing each sonnet.
In many ways, God’s Grandeur and The World Is Too Much With Us, also possess quite the same themes throughout. In both sonnets the theory of a higher power being reflected through its creation are heavy themes. Hopkins establishes this theme in his very first line where he wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” (1). It is clear that Hopkins saw the natural world as the reflection of God himself. Wordsworth wrote with the same theme, but it remained subtle in comparison to Hopkins. In instances where Wordsworth relies on imagery it becomes obvious that he too saw the natural world as a reflection of a higher power. When Wordsworth wrote, “Little we see in Nature that is ours;” while it was not plainly stated there is an underlying message that tells the reader, nature isn’t the possession of mankind but rather God’s attempt to share his beauty. The pivotal difference between the two sonnets is Hopkins expansion on this theme by implying the power of God will always upstage the shortcomings of mankind as opposed to Wordsworth’s more subtle acknowledgment to God’s presence. Wordsworth focused his sonnet on the materialistic and fast paced societal shift which angered him, leaving him to question why people had begun to ignore nature. This is evident when he writes, “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—” (2). Wordsworth projects his sadness towards humanity’s need for power through wealth and business rather than respecting nature, angrily scrutinizing the ease at which society gave into materialism. Hopkins had a similar anger in those who had lost sight of what he believed to be God’s most precious gift to mankind, nature, where he wrote, “And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; / And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil” (6-7). Acknowledging the same betrayal of nature by mankind in which humanity left its mark on the natural world for their own personal gain. Both sonnets seem to address an underlying message of how the more people impact nature the less they long to appreciate it. Although much of Hopkins reference to materialism is subtle, mirroring the same way in which Wordsworth approached God’s presence in the natural world. While both poems are also following the Petrarchan sonnet form, the reader can see that Hopkins indicates his problem in the first eight lines, being that mankind has lost sight of God by neglecting nature. It is here that he also emphasizes the weakness of mankind. Followed by his solution in the last six lines which is that God’s power will eventually wash away the mark humanity left on the natural world. Whereas Wordsworth seemed to state his problem followed by an ambiguous solution. Though the two sonnets differed, they carried the same themes of divine power and materialistic society, which ultimately lead to the overall message of each poem. The message being to conserve the natural world and to renew the importance of nature. Through this message the tone of each poem is very clear, Wordsworth’s tone being angry, vengeful, and sarcastic; as opposed Hopkins’ tone of hopelessness that eventually eases as his faith is restored once again by the power of God.
Imagery and symbolism were used heavily to strengthen the themes of each sonnet. In The World Is Too Much With Us, nature is the most prominent subject at which the imagery is derived. Wordsworth describes his sight of the ocean at night when he wrote, “This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; / The winds that will be howling at all hours,” (5-6). In a way Wordsworth is using the ocean and wind to symbolize a divine vulnerable power, in doing so strengthens the theme of the sonnet. He tied this imagery to a later line in which he wrote, “For this, for everything, we are out of tune;” (8). The connection between these three lines is Wordsworth’s acknowledgment to his own use of symbolism in which he used the sea and the wind to symbolize the entirety of nature and its importance. Hopkins on the other hand approached his use of imagery in a different way, while remaining with the theme of coastal imagery. Suggested by the similarities between crashing waves as the assumed manifestation of God’s power to the way foil looks as it is shaken. It is when Hopkins wrote, “It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;” (2). He chose to compare the opposing things in order to emphasize the noticeable power of God in nature and the way in which it could fade away. Much like Wordsworth’s connection between his lines, Hopkins used this line to expand his statement acknowledging the “charged” nature the power God possesses. Hopkins included imagery such as, “the ooze of oil” (3) and “the Holy Ghost” (13) as well as prominent images in his sonnet. The image of “the Holy Ghost” (13) is pivotal in Hopkins main theme of the divine essence of God in nature by implying the Holy Ghost is watching over mankind much like a bird over their brood. He distinguishes the transition between day and night through imagery as he wrote, “And though the last lights off the black West went” (11). It is in this line that symbolism was playing a heavy role as well by using the fading of night into day as symbols. Symbolizing the hopelessness, he was trying to convey towards mankind along with his faith in God’s light renewing the natural world. Wordsworth and Hopkins overlap with their use of imagery in using images to symbolize a feeling of discontent and hopelessness. Wordsworth reflects on his lack of faith when he wrote, “Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;” (12). As he described the wish, he had of losing the feeling of disappointment that plagued him due to mankind’s path of destruction in nature. He followed up this line as he referenced Greek mythological sea gods, Proteus and Triton. He wrote, “Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; / Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.” (13-14). The symbolism that lies in his imagery is significant due to the powers the two God’s possess, Proteus’s ability to shift appearance paired with his knowledge of the past, present, and future. While Triton had immense power and was known for his conch that functions similarly to a siren call. Wordsworth seemed to have referenced Proteus and Triton in order to symbolize his initial point of humanity obsession with materialistic culture that will never end and his call to action for mankind to find their way back to nature, shown through Proteus’ knowledge and Tritons conch. Although Wordsworth and Hopkins differed in their use of strong imagery, there were still overlapping themes of coastal imagery representing a higher power and symbolism within the natural environment to project their own emotions towards the evanescent importance of nature in their own societies.
The use of language and tone in both sonnets is the source of fluidity that bridges the gap between the structure and theme in each piece. Tying the aforementioned aspects together in a way that them to expand upon each other. Both Wordsworth and Hopkins have quite interesting language and tone. Wordsworth makes solid use of repetition and alliteration in such phrases as, “bares her bosom” (5) and “howling at all hours” (6). As does Hopkins, where in each line of God’s Grandeur there are at least two alliterating words which goes against the typical rhythm of a sonnet. It is in God’s Grandeur as well, that Hopkins chose to use the alliteration of ‘b’ and ‘br’ words in the last three lines, “Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — / Because the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” (12-14). In a similar way as Wordsworth, Hopkins made use of repetition as well in the line, “Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;” (5). Unlike Wordsworth, Hopkins had a repeating phrase rather than letter. As both poets abandon aspects of the traditional sonnet by using various writing techniques such as alliteration and intertwining a few others throughout their pieces. Wordsworth used a simile in the phrase, “like sleeping flowers” (7). Where he gave the action of sleep to inanimate flowers rather than the typical comparison to flowers as still objects without any type of action. Hopkins included a simile of his own in which he compared God’s manifestation of power through nature to oil. Within this comparison there is a sense of irony as Hopkins compared God’s power, the good, to the environmentally detrimental substance oil, the bad. He wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; / It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil.” (1-3). It is in the following Hopkins introduces a writing technique not used by Wordsworth, enjambment. Hopkins’ use of enjambment is a powerful aspect throughout the sonnet such as the use of “crushed” (5) to begin the second quatrain. It is also seen in the phrase “Is Bare” (8) at the end of the second quatrain. As well as the use of “World” (14) in the last line of his sonnet. Another way in which Hopkins interrupts the traditional meter is through internal rhyme as shown in the sixth line where he rhymes “seared,” “bleared,” and “smeared” (6). Along with the specific use of slant rhyme which is seen in the phrase, “dearest freshness” (10). Unlike Hopkins, Wordsworth chose to personify nature throughout as if to acknowledge nature as well when he addresses the ‘we’ throughout his sonnet. While Hopkins used such techniques as parallelism between phrases in second quatrain and interjections such as, “Oh” (12) and “ah!” (14), whereas Wordsworth did not in his sonnet. The use of language throughout the sonnets, God’s Grandeur and The World Is Too Much With Us, set a foundation in which the reader could begin to expand the intended meaning. Making both sonnets incredibly effective.
The analytical comparison of both, God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins and The World Is Too Much With Us by William Wordsworth, the poems begin to blend into one. Their similarities within the tone of hopelessness, the structure as Petrarchan sonnets, the symbolism within nature, and the clear belief in natural theology, make the poems complement each other well. Their differences with the use of language, writing techniques, intensity of religious beliefs, and the resolution of the sonnets are defining components that distinguish the sonnets from each other. Despite the extent to which both sonnets reflect each other, the ways in which they differ subliminally say quite a lot about the moment in time in which they were written and the societal changes that were taking place. In the end, the works analyzed within this essay are in many ways relevant to the far more materialistic culture that is present in society today, making each sonnet right in their prediction that materialism would only continue to grow. The result being the majority of mankind has lost sight of the natural world and do little to conserve nature. Making the message within both sonnets even more important today.
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