Encounter “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins — in Comic-Book Style  


Gerard Manley Hopkins, the famed English Jesuit who is considered one of the most influential poets of the 19th century. “He was a man of passion and he was a lover, this poet Gerard Manley Hopkins,” wrote the late American Jesuit Joseph Feeney, a Hopkins scholar. “He loved his family and friends and God, he loved music and sketching, he loved hiking and swimming, and he loved beauty, nature, and the environment. As a priest he loved his fellow Jesuits, his students, and his parishioners, and as a poet he loved his creativity and the words and images and rhythms and sounds of his poems.” 

This passion comes through strongly in one of Hopkins’ most famous poems, a sonnet called “God’s Grandeur.” As Fr. Feeney wrote, the poem “presents God’s presence in the world as both a sudden bright electric spark and as tasty olive oil, then grieves about industrial pollution, yet finds the Holy Ghost caring for the world just as a mother-bird cares for and warms her egg.” 

There are so many vivid images in the poem’s 14 propulsive lines. So when I discovered the work of visual artist Julian Peters, who adapts classic poems into incredible comics, I reached out to see if he could turn “God’s Grandeur” into a visual piece. 

Julian did not disappoint. I love seeing what the poem prompted in Julian’s own imagination, especially how he captured the line “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” He painted weeds growing out of a sidewalk crack and the enormous, miraculous network of roots beneath the surface. How easy it is to miss the grandeur of God all around us; how ever-present it is. 

Julian Peters is a comics artist and illustrator living in Montreal. He specializes in the adaptation of classic poetry into the medium of comics. His debut collection, “Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry,” was released in 2020 by Plough Books. 

Artist Statement: 
The highly distinctive rhythm and syntax of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poetry seemed to call out for a less conventional approach to comics adaptation than has been my general practice, particularly in terms of the page layouts and color schemes. In my drawings I have tried to capture some of that feeling of divine grandeur Hopkins always finds in nature, while also highlighting what I saw as the environmentalist concerns to be found in this short poem. 

The final image can of course be read as an apocalyptic one, though the plume of smoke rising up from the jungle suggests that some human beings have survived the civilizational collapse brought on by their own destructive tendencies. On a more pessimistic note, the presence of burning as evidence of human life could be seen to indicate the inherently negative effects of human beings on their environment, even as, paradoxically, they are the only creatures capable of appreciating its grandeur. 


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