Language and tone in God's Grandeur


The patterning of the language is obviously carefully worked out. The main pattern is alliterative, each line having two or three alliterating words, following the pattern of much medieval English verse, but unusual in a sonnet, which traditionally depends on rhyme for its main patterning. You can probably work out the alliterations in each line, and in doing so, you will notice the growing complexities of the b/br alliterations of the last three lines.


The second pattern is parallelism: the parallel structure of phrases, as in ‘All is seared with trade' paralleling ‘bleared, smeared with toil'; or ‘And wears man's smudge' paralleling ‘and shares man's smell'. This is poetic structure typical of the Bible, where the ‘and' has a strong rhetorical force, building up emphasis.

There are also simple repetitive patterns, such as ‘have trod' repeated three times; or the internal rhymes of ‘seared, bleared, smeared' adding to the parallelism. Lastly, are the two interjections: ‘Oh' and ‘ah'. Hopkins' interjections are always deliberate and force their way into the middle of a sentence to give some extra emotional resonance to the poet's voice, which might otherwise seem a little too strident, too confident.

Investigating God's Grandeur
  • What effect do the w, b and br alliterations have in the last line?
  • Why does Hopkins repeat ‘have trod', do you think?
  • What is the effect of the ‘oh' and ‘ah' for you? Do you find them unnecessary, even embarrassing?
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