The world in an altered book

The world in an altered book

I’ve just finished the altered book I started seven years ago, tearing all the boring parts from an old college writing textbook, and adding in collage and color. God’s Grandeur is a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest in Britain’s Victorian era. Hopkins was known for heavily twisted-together poems of Anglo-Saxon imagery and meter. I’ve learned several of his poems by heart, for their mixture of close observation, wordplay, religious vision, and range of emotions towards life. This poem in particular has great visuals for an art project. The poem reads:

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
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.

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


View the book as a slideshow here, or scroll down to see each image with commentary.

The World…

The apple on the cover of the SF Writer becomes the world, held up by a person in acrylics.

Is Charged With the Grandeur of God…

Torah scrolls, lighting, and an error printout from a Walgreens receipt machine.

It will flame out…

Courage, fire, American flag-burning, college handbook, Navajo, parallelism.

Like Shining from Shook Foil*…

bright snowflakes, ice, winter rivers, what makes a good writer. *as metal foil reflects light. 

It gathers to a greatness / like the ooze of oil*…

Oily man, the Bayterek and Khan Shatyr buildings of Astana, and oil wealth. *The original poem refers to “oil / crushed,” as olive oil in handpresses.


Fist, sandpaper, pillar of knowledge, academic citations and sources.

Why then do men now not reck his rod?* / Generations…

Authority, hippies, right-wing militia, FEMA trailer protests, approved academic sources. *Recognize God’s scepter or authority. 

Have trod, have trod, have trod…

Mountain climbers, Central Asians in exile in Afghanistan, Honda robot walking, “Stony the road we trod” black national anthem.

And all is seared with trade…

Monopoly money, golden eggs, Pope John Paul II, Mongolian currency, US soldier at field camp burger king, green velvet, Boardwalk card.

Bleared, smeared with toil…

Vermeer of servant working, grandmother, eye, world, mascara smearing, how to write a resume.

And wears man’s smell and shares man’s smudge…

Sigma Tau Delta, gas mask (Baxter Orr graphics), the wailing wall, absent over punching tool (insert), original sin.

The soil…

Israeli kibbutz workers, map, MLA citation types, soil, rocks, dirt.

Is bare now…

Formulaic writing, cult member, bare stone, bright light, toilet paper collage.

Nor can foot feel, being shod. 

African necklace, gold, Eliot Spitzer, prince, empire, ferret, Leonardo da Vinci.

And for all this, nature is never spent…

Moderate sleep, graphs, farmer boy, Mary Poppins, displaced matter, cutout painting from art calendar.

There lives…

Parrot, forest, school folder, life.

The dearest, freshest….

sea dragon, fire, seabirds, health and happiness, quack medicine, blue ocean.

Deep down things…

clown, 1940s lady, gender, rocket ship, kitchen sink, maze, bow tie, academia.

And though the last lights off the black west went…

Sunset, irregular verbs, candles over the Ganges, woman in mourning, western buttes, young women at a catholic college.

Oh! Morning…

Sunrise, sunset, acrylics, verb tenses, children in bed, wakening.

At the brown brink eastward springs…

Eastward, large leaf, charity brochure, curved wave, present progressive tense.


Words, sign language, possessive nouns, Martin, plagiarism, charts and graphs, the Lord’s prayer.

The Holy Ghost…

Baptism at the Vineyard, social theory and social structure, all things seen and unseen, capitalization of our God, Australian butte, library books, faculty status.

Over the bent world…

Barack Obama, cut-through map of the Silk Road, the bill of rights, George Bush, troubles and problems, the human condition.


Pensiveness, the litany of Ash Wednesday, dinner in central asia, old letter fragments, a wise owl, market woman calling home, Abraham Lincoln, pasty white Jesus, the tenth amendment.

With warm breast / and with…

Pensive buddha, ornamental stonework, love and compassion, list of proofreading abbreviations.

Ah! Bright wings. 

Preacher man, Dorothy day quote, Asian monks in meditation, American colonists, everyone/every one, accept/except, faith/fate, manifest destiny, community, wings of a turkey, wings of an angel, paint chips, transcendence.


Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Art by many many people. Copyright and fair use includes assemblage and commentary. One hopes.


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