Today we complete our journey from despair to delight, with six of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sonnets as our travel guide. To celebrate, we share his pleasure in his own favourite poem, The Windhover:
I caught this morning morning's minionminion favorite, darling; also, an underling or servant, king-
dom of daylight's dauphindauphin prince; a French historical term, along with “chevalier”, 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 wimplingwimpling rippling 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 valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! Buckle! to bend, attach; prepare for flight or battle. The verb could be descriptive of the bird’s action, or it could be the speaker’s imperative. AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!chevalier French word for “knight” or “champion”; pronounced Chev-ah-leer, to rhyme with “here” and “dear”
No wonder of it: shéer plódshéer plód slowly, laboriously, and without break; these accent marks, inserted by Hopkins, tell the reader to place more accent or emphasis on those syllables when reading aloud makes plough down sillionsillion Fresh soil upturned by a plow (“plough”)
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dearah my dear Compare with the same phrase in the poem “Love (III)” by George Herbert, a poet Hopkins admired.,
Fall, gallgall to become sore, crack, or chafe themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
Then you can have a rest and check out some of the words and images. In line 2, ’dauphin’ means ‘crown prince’. In line 6 the imagery is ice-skating – for us today it could as easily be skiing in the Alps, or surfing the waves of Cornwall. Lines 9-11 give the image of the prince on horseback fastening (buckling) his armour. In lines 12-13, ‘plough down sillion shine’ refers to the way that soil, when turned over by a plough, becomes big and shiny. In the final line, ‘gall’ means graze or scrape, and ‘gold-vermilion’ is the colour of fire, or fresh blood.
Hopkins used the word inscape to refer to the charged essence of a thing (a tree, a landscape, a sunset or – in this case – a falcon); the absolute individuality that gives each thing its being, its uniqueness, its sanctity, its purpose in the world. He created a second word, instress, to refer to the energy that holds the thing together and – importantly – to the impulse which carries it whole into the mind of the person seeing it. His heart stirs for the falcon, he is at one with it in its mastery of the air.
We can gain profound courage from this sonnet. The beauty and joy of the falcon, ecstatically riding the wind, infuses with his energy not only Hopkins the poet but also ourselves the readers. It prompts us to celebrate those moments in our own lives when we are effortlessly magnificent and free.
He inspires us to believe in a glittering luminous core to our own being - a core not crushed by the ‘sheer plod’ of our daily activities, but brought by them to the surface, honed and sparkling in the sun.
shéer plód slowly, laboriously, and without break; these accent marks, inserted by Hopkins, tell the reader to place more accent or emphasis on those syllables when reading aloudAnd all this in full awareness that our existence is precious but precarious; that danger or death may be lurking around the corner. An awareness that only heightens the intensity of our joy for life in the present moment.