For Better for Verse: An interactive learning tool that can help you understand what makes metered poetry in English tick.

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God’s Grandeur(1918)

Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
MeterThe world is charged with the grandeur of God.

Note on line 1: Most readers will hear this line as a tetrameter, 2 iambs plus 2 anapests. But the rest of the sonnet is so manifestly written in pentameter that a prosodic pedant will return to line 1 and suppose that Hopkins, wanting to make his title word “grandeur” as spacious and dignified as he could, brought out its French-import quality and flourished it as a spondee.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
MeterIt will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
MeterIt gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Note on line 3:Now you can see why this poem is presented as a Special Challenge. If anything line 3 is more evidently a hexameter than line 1 was a tetrameter. Yet – take it on faith for now – the sonnet’s meter is pentameter; so the prosodist sweeps all those slacks into a second foot of 4 syllables and calls it a paeonic (technically a “fourth paeonic” because the foot’s one stress falls in fourth place). Scan it thus and, for your trouble, enjoy the dividend of a heightened sense of swift inevitable “gathering” in the sudden grandeurs of a divinely charged world. Line 12 seems to remember this accelerando, though there Hopkins will obtain it by legal means. He became so fond of such rhythmical suppleness that many of his best poems jettison accentual-syllabic metrics altogether, in favor of what he called Sprung Rhythm. This poem springs that way, but it doesn’t quite reach escape velocity.

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
MeterCrushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
MeterGenerations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
MeterAnd all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
MeterAnd wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
MeterIs bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
MeterAnd for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
MeterThere lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
MeterAnd though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–
MeterOh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
MeterBecause the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
MeterWorld broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Note on line 14: Here’s verbal comfort food. “World broods,” “warm breast”: two double-stresses alliterated on the heavily vocal consonants “w” and “br” lead — with a magician’s wondering “ah!” — to a third double-stress (“bright wings”) that reverses the alliteration and also reverberates with “brink” and “springs” two lines above it. The line recapitulates the sense of rescue that informs this sonnet’s whole movement from threat to reassurance, bad news to good. The conspicuous enjambment of line 13 hovers precariously between the world’s fallenness and the tender care of the Holy Ghost.


Rhyme
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