April 30 – – days that look like Spring should feel – – Gerard Manley Hopkins, s.j. “The Windhover”

April 30
Posted on April 22, 2019

Must be spring; time to check Weather.com’s allergy tracker.

Tasting the wind makes a respiratory spring ritual for me and many others.  Worth it, though.   Campus trees and flowers begin to show their stuff.  Adults and children skip and laugh.    This morning, while my Lakota daughter Mary Tobacco sipped coffee & explored the day’s options, a falcon, riding wind gusts, dancing far above me, showing off the breadth of the broad valley where we live, some 50 miles north of Detroit, showing off the wonders of the great city’s far-flung northern fringes.

Once again, on this late spring Friday morning, the season’s sheer beauty led me to Gerard Manley Hopkins, s.j.  “The Windhover.”  The poem, better, the poet’s cadences and vocabulary, help the reader come alive as its beauty of word and sound match these days.  Even if it takes two or three readings to adapt your ear to his word play, it’s worth it.

Hopkins is [in]famous for the packed meaning of his vocabulary.   His life-long friend Robert Bridges often ground his aesthetic teeth at what seemed to him to be GMH’s unnecessary complexity.   On November 6, 1887, Hopkins wrote Bridges, attempting to explain the density of his language.   Did GMH tease his frustrated Poet Laureate friend by creating a single sentence that never seems to run out of breath?

“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.”   

Which is more wild and crazy challenging?  Hopkin’s masterpiece “Dapple dawn drawn falcon” or his tease to his friend?   If you find the time during this spring-sunshine 2019 Monday, test it out by trying to read both out loud, with pauses.

More sun than clouds or rain this week.   Have a blest Friday.

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


Unusual Words in Windhover

Line 1 : minion – darling
Line 2 : dauphin – french for eldest son of the king
Line 4 : rung upon – to lead a horse in a circle on a long rein wimpling: rippling
Line 10 : buckle – either to fasten into one, or to collapse/crumble away.
Line 11 : chevalier – french for knight, champion
Line 12 : sillion – ridge between two furrows
Line 14 : gall – break the surface of.

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