Oct 30 – “a subtle and recondite thought” Gerard Manley Hopkins sj 1887

Friday, October 30    “a billion times told lovelier”

Autumn’s gusty winds;  Covid weariness across our land calling for courage and hope in the teeth of fear and anger as our national elections loom.   A good morning for story-telling and story listening, to stand still a minute, breathe in deeply, stand still a little more, and read one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ magical poems.

Hopkins’ poems are [in]famous for the density of their vocabulary.  If you want to catch all the descriptive meaning packed in these 16 sonnet lines, bring a good dictionary.  Hopkins’ life-long friend poet laureate Robert Bridges often ground his aesthetic teeth at what seemed to him to be Hopkins’ unnecessary complexity.

On November 6, 1887, Hopkins wrote Bridges, simultaneously teasing his friend and attempting to explain the density of his poetic language.    Try reading GMH’s explanation out loud; note that this apologia for demanding word choices emerges as a single, grammatically-correct sentence. So, take a deep breath before you begin.  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 subtle 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.”

Don’t you wish you could write like that?  You’d have to have patient friends as readers though.

Have a blest day,


john sj


Today’s Post    –   “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
28 July 1844 – 8 June, 1889

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