Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Windhover

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dáwn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rólling level úndernéath him steady áir, & stríding
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 & gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, -- the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty & valour & 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 wónder of it: shéer plód makes plóugh down síllion
Shine, & blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gáll themsélves, & gásh góld-vermílion.

* * *

I really wish I could explain all of this poem. There's a lot of it I don't understand, or can't express.

The octave is all about the windhover and the way it flies. Anyone who has ever watched a bird soaring in the wind can identify with this. The ecstasy of the flight is brought about, not by the bird alone, but by the bird's struggle with the wind. The clashing together and conflict of the wind ends up being harnessed by the windhover's mastery into smooth grace, like the grace of a skater.

In the same way, as expressed in the sestet, Christ harnesses the outside pressures of His life on earth, His passion, to manifest His own mastery. Hopkins's outburst of emotion about "the fire that breaks from thee" shows his wonder and amazement about that mastery.

The last three lines are more examples of suffering manifesting the glory hidden within things: a sillion (the ridge between furrows) shining because of the difficult passage of the plough through it, and coals breaking open as they fall to reveal their glowing interior.

That last image especially reminds us of Christ's wounds, which do not only show His humanity, but also His immense strength, to be able to bear that suffering for us.

Hopkins has this way with him of showing the true meaning and power of suffering without actually telling what it is. "The Wreck of the Deutschland" is a prime example of this. Perhaps I'll blog that someday.


Kevin Jones said...

Hopkins is great

There's a great CD of Hopkins poetry read by a British Shakespearean actor who is a regular at Regis University's Hopkins Conference. See

"The Windhover" is on it.

Sheila said...

That's great. Hopkins is so hard to recite well.