Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Windhover 3

Windhover 3

The woman keeps obsessing about this poem but here we go again. This wonderful pencil sketch of a kestrel, or windhover (assuming the dratted photo blog actually posts it) is courtesy of Gary Theobald at

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, 5
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 10
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

The crux of the poem is the line
“Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! ...”

The first large portion of the poem is the lovely sweeping image of the bird’s mastery of the wind. The little sparrow hawk is totally at home in the air, loving the wind and challenge of flight. He is a prince, heir-apparent, and full of pride in his glory.

But the crux of the poem, and the difficult, hard message is in that second stanza. All that beauty, valor and glory must give way, must buckle! Wow! That is a harsh demand. This is the part of the poem that I evaded for a full thirty years of my life, while just loving the beautiful word flow and images in the rest of it. And this is what we must all come to if we are to really grasp what Hopkins demands of us with this poem.

When I was a college student, I had a real fight with my English professor about this poem. I loved it, and he hated it. He wanted me to agree with him that Hopkins’ “Dappled Beauty” was a better poem. I absolutely disagreed, and I still disagree. This is a better and much more powerful poem. But now I understand why that sad man was afraid of this poem. Whether you are going to go the way of the plow, polished by constant rubbing through the soil (sillion) or the more dramatic and probably painful embers cracking open to reveal their glowing interior beneath the ashy outsides, breaking up is hard to do. (OK that was a really cheap shot wasn’t it?)

1 comment:

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