Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Windhover - Gerard Manley Hopkins

   To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
   dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
   Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
   As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
   Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

   No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, a blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
   Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Hopkins, a Jesuit, whose poems remained unpublished in his lifetime, is one of my favorite poets, and I think The Windhover is a good example of why.  His characteristic compound words and alliterations shine through, and help contribute to an air of flight in line with the subject matter.

A windhover is a kestrel, a bird of prey, just for reference.  Hopkins describes the way he saw this prince of morning ("daylight's dauphin") and its flight.  His "heart in hiding stirred for a bird" and he was overcome by its "brute beauty."  He's blown away by its flight, not just by "the achieve of" [flight, presumably] but by "the mastery of the thing!"  The windhover is the prince, the "chevalier" or the skies, riding the wind in total control.

In the last stanza, Hopkins comes down from his rapturous flight, and finds "no wonder of it."  It is not wondrous, what he witnessed.  Even the soil shines after hard work.  "Sheer plod makes plough down sillion shine."  He's reminded that with work, toil, and possibly suffering, beauty can be achieved.  This brings us back to the first line.  "To Christ our Lord."  It should go without saying that as a Jesuit, Hopkins was devout.  In Hopkins' poetry, all beauty comes from the Lord, and acts of beauty in Nature, like the flight of the windhover, are fundamentally acts of praise.  Whether or not you agree with this, the images in Hopkins' poetry exude a real sense of ecstasy and flight, and one cannot help but feel, like the windhover, gliding through the brilliant day.

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