An auricular delight for you today. Part of the genius of poetry is that it connects the beauty of ideas with the beauty of sound. In the late 19th century Gerard Manley Hopkins was famous for his wild experimentation with language in his poetry. At about the same time he wrote his celebrated "God's Grandeur," he wrote many equally daring sonnets. The Windhover, today's poem, has been called "the most startlingly experimental of this gorgeous tranche of sonnets." Justin's beautiful and restrained reading is a treat to listen to.
The poem is dedicated to "Christ our Lord," and beneath the surface of the words it points particularly to his Passion. Hopkins was heavily influenced by the Spiritual Exercises of S Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Before entering the religious life, S Ignatius was an army soldier. The founding document of the Jesuits reads: "Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross in our Society." Critics and devotees alike have called the Jesuits "God's Marines."
Christ is envisioned as a bird swooping down from heaven. Poet Carol Rumens explains it better than I can:
"Christ's Passion is central to the poem, the core from which everything else spirals and to which everything returns. The plunge of the windhover onto its prey suggests not simply the Fall of man and nature, but the descent of a redemptive Christ into the abyss of human misery and cruelty. References to equestrian and military valour (the dauphin, the chevalier) evoke the Soldier Christ, a figure to be found in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola which Hopkins devotedly practised."
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
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 valour 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 plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.