The above line is from the poem “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It has very much come to mind in recent days.
A constant source of fascination and joy is that our house backs onto open fields surrounded by numerous trees. It’s a landscape that provides a rich and varied wildlife habitat and in which the changing of the seasons is very evident. One of those remarkable, speeded up, time laps films would reveal this especially graphically, but in real time it is no less spectacular. Over the winter there is little change, but it only takes a few sunny spring days to bring about the first burst of new life and activity; suddenly there is blossom and the emergence of fresh green leaves which can seem to appear almost between glances. There is avian activity too; birds, in ever increasing numbers, busily feeding or collecting nesting material. Yet, at the present time, all this is occurring in what almost seems like defiance of the destruction and unfolding tragedy of the covid-19 pandemic.
Perhaps it’s because of such a stark contrast that this spring feels all the more intense. Without doubt I have been more keenly aware of it; the necessary restrictions on our lives have made what limited time and opportunity there is to be out in the open air all the more precious. A similar experience is summed up in a sentence from the transcript of a radio talk given by Sir John Betjeman in 1940, which I came across quite by accident. In referring to his observations in the early months of World War II he noted, “I have become grateful for small things that I had not time to notice in the hurried turmoil we called civilization before the war.” In our own present crisis, it is easy to identify with this.
It is a sobering thought that spring, the miracle of nature’s annual renewal, was occurring long before humankind arrived on the scene. Hopkins’s poem grasps something of the magnitude of this, the first line boldly declaring, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” But a few lines later the poet questions man’s failure to recognise this, noting with bitter regret:
“And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.”
But then comes a powerfully reassuring statement …
“And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;”
Hopkins, with an abundance of faith, ultimately asserting …
“Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
There is, of course, another parallel – the spring season is concurrent with that of Passiontide and Easter, in which the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ reveals God’s ultimate renewal of life and victory over death. Just now, the message of this also seems to be intensified in a way we may not have experienced before.