Poetry Sunday: My prayers must meet a brazen Heaven

This poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins beautifully expresses a worry that we all might feel at some point in our lives — that our prayers are ineffective or unable to meet God’s ears, barred by a brazen heaven. In this case brazen = brass, not bold.  The speaker hints at his/her shortcomings: the prayers being inadequate and any attempts to transcend the problem by calling for God’s help will automatically fail because the messages can’t get through to a brass heaven anyway!

Like Enos who “wrestled before God,” the speaker describes prayer as a battle, heaven as brass and him/herself as clay with too much iron to be malleable.  To some, this is uncharted territory. For others, a familiar journey. Let’s be kind to each other, wherever we are.

My Prayers must meet a Brazen Heaven — Gerard Manley Hopkins

My prayers must meet a brazen heaven
And fail and scatter all away.
Unclean and seeming unforgiven
My prayers I scarcely call to pray.
I cannot buoy my heart above; 
Above I cannot entrance win.
I reckon precedents of love, 
But feel the long success of sin.

My heaven is brass and iron my earth: 
Yea, iron is mingled with my clay, 
So harden'd is it in this dearth
Which praying fails to do away.
Nor tears, nor tears this clay uncouth
Could mould, if any tears there were.
A warfare of my lips in truth, 
Battling with God, is now my prayer.


Violadiva is an oxymoron, a musician, a yogi, a Suzuki violin teacher, a late-night baker of sourdough breads, proud Mormon feminist, happy wife of Pianoman and lucky mother to three.

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5 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    I love this! Especially the last line, “Battling with God, is now my prayer.” This poem gives me some beautiful words and imagery to express the complexity of my faith journey. Thank you for sharing it!

  2. EmilyCC says:

    I resonate with so much of this poem. I feel like in the Church we often talk about prayer as an ephemeral, beatific experience. Mine feel very gritty and continuous…a long-standing battle/conversation with God.

  3. KMDuff says:

    I like poetry sunday so much. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Melissa says:

    Lovely poem for an unlovely feeling. It is difficult to bend the knee at times.

  1. February 1, 2016

    […] of the responses to the talks, the calling of the three Utahn apostles. I’ve had the words of this Gerald Manley Hopkins poem rattling around in my […]

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