Compare the Ways in Which Hopkins’ ‘God’s Grandeur’ and Wordsworth’s ‘the World Is Too Much with Us’ Use the Sonnet Form to Address Their Contemporary Concerns.

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  • Topic: Sonnet, Poetry, English poets
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  • Published : October 23, 2011
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British poets during the nineteenth century, a period of great social, economic and environmental change, experienced an astounding shift in poetic style, in which many based their work on the ‘beauty’ of their surroundings, and how mankind affected this. Of this period, two of the leading nature poets in British literary history, Gerard Manley Hopkins and William Wordsworth became known, renowned as great figures in British literary history. Both adopted a ‘sacramental’ view of nature, that is they saw beyond the obvious features commonly associated with the natural world such as phenomenal features of the landscape. Writing during the Industrial Revolution, both poets considered the divinity and holiness at a deeper level and found that the world was imbued with spiritual influence. Not only did this event change their perception on a spiritual level, it also affected their general tone and outlook on life, which is evident in the way the poets write. In God’s Grandeur and The World Is Too Much With Us, the Petrachan sonnet form is used, a conventional style which became popular among English poets, in that they felt they could be more expressive using the Italian form, rather than the typical Shakespearean style. In this, they exploit the typical use of an octet or the first eight lines principally develop their argument or concern, while the sestet or the final six lines focus on the proposed solution offered by the poet.

The problems both poems directly address are focussed on the exploitation of nature in pursuit of wealth and material gain; what differentiates the poems is their reliance and response to the natural world, which had been moulded around the needs of mankind in the 1800s. As a result, mankind abused the natural world and preferring to pollute it as a means of gaining wealth. Unsurprisingly, both were greatly influenced by their religious fervour; Wordsworth shows evident sympathy for Pagan mythology, while Hopkins was committed to a Christian tradition, shown through the images in his writing. In 1868, Hopkins became a Jesuit, who were a group of Catholics who wanted to reclaim Europe for Catholicism and counter the Reformation. Writing would remain something of a concern for him as he believed that his interest in poetry would prevent him from wholly devoting himself to his faith. Hopkins ‘needed to love both’ his work and his faith, but required ‘a new stroke of enthusiasm’. Having read the work of Duns Scotus in 1872, he found that religion and literature were not mutually exclusive. This allowed Hopkins to form a perceptual framework for seeing the world and to develop his theory of inscape, and although Wordsworth did not share the same view, both believed in the repristination or renewal of the world.

"God's Grandeur" and "The World is Too Much With Us" weave a similar theme throughout: that is, a hierarchical view of nature that places Gods at the top of the pyramid of creation and man presiding at a lower niche. The two sonnets glorify the wonder of nature and decry the intolerable treatment of man towards it. Hopkins’ sentiments on nature are quite obvious from the very beginning, demonstrated through his choice of title. ‘God’s Grandeur’ leaves no doubt as to the poet’s recognition of nature as a powerful manifestation of the Almighty. However, it is not just those of the Industrial Revolution who believe mankind exploits nature, but had been an age-old tradition centuries before these poems were composed. In the 13th Century, Dante wrote in Canto Xi, ‘But the usurer contrives a third way yet, And in herself and in her follower, Art, scornes Nature, for his hope is elsewhere set.’ By dealing recklessly with finance, people are able to exploit others and nature, the primary reason for Dante’s written warning. This links directly to the theme of commerce and consumption demonstrated by Wordsworth. Throughout, his primary theme is that society is bent on making and spending money, that...
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