Saturday, October 08, 2005

Coming back to The Windhover

The Windhover stays in my mind, not just because of the beautiful imagery. I love the image of the little falcon daring against the big wind. But the poem has a much bigger and more challenging meaning. You must remember that the author was both a Jesuit priest and a person who was in bad health most of his adult life. Gerard Manley Hopkins dedicated the poem to Christ, Our Lord, and ends it with these lines:

...My heart in hiding stirred for a bird -- the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride plume, here Buckle!
AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion times lovelier, more dangerous, o my Chevalier!
No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah, my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

I think Gerard Manley Hopkins is speaking of the way that Christians believe that Jesus, by dying, broken on the cross, became more alive and more powerful and wonderful in the resurrection. He is saying that we have to break, too, or at least rub ourselves smooth in day-to-day grind, to reveal the fire within. This is not necesarily happy news. It's easier to stay as that fierce little falcon, master of his airy domain, than to accept that air, pride and plume must buckle to move to the next level. We have to be ready to be phoenixes. This illustration of a phoenix is copyrighted by Sarah Wheeler at

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