a falcon at dawn

Monday  November 25

The pre-dawn sky promised a strong sunrise; weather.com promised it at 7:36 am.   Dawn this morning showed a dance of subtle changing colors lured me to stand a while at an east window on Lansing Reilly’s 2nd floor looking out over Calihan Hall, the LaCrosse and Soccer field, and the big parking lot.  It turned out that the parking lot caught my attention more than the magnificent sunrise.  People driving in to park pause before turning off their lights, gathering their stuff, and heading to a work place on campus.  Two surprises — the scattering of car lights look very different when they play a part in a sunrise, mellow lights that grow a little more delicate as sunrise changes the light around them;  that was one surprise.  The other was the serene pace of each vehicle as its driver decided which slot to choose.  The people pulling into the lot were matching the pace of their parking space choice with the dawn’s opening.   The sunrise was worth watching; so was the parking lot.

All that beauty reminds me of one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sonnets.   Hopkins dedicates the poem “to Christ our Lord,”  the only explicit faith language in the poem.  The rest is all falcon  swooping in the sky at dawn.


The Windhover:  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 valor 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:  shéer plốd makes plough down sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, a my dear,

Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.


Gerard Manley Hopkins



Hopkins’ poems are [in]famous for the density of their vocabulary.  If you want to catch all the descriptive meaning packed in these 16 sonnett lines, bring your dictionary.  Hopkins’ life-long friend Robert Bridges often ground his aesthetic teeth at what seemed to him to be unnecessary complexity.    On November 6, 1887 Hopkins wrote Bridges, attempting to explain the density of his poetic language;  Try reading GMH’s explanation out loud, for that matter, try reading The Windhover out loud as the poet intended.

“Plainly if it is possible to express a subtle and recondite thought on a sublte and recondite subject in a subtle and recondite way and with great felicity and perfection in the end, something must be sacrificed, with so trying a task, in the process, and this may be the being at once, nay perhaps even the being without explanation at all, intelligible.”

One of the last days before Thankgiving break.  Yippee!

john st sj

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