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: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
“The achieve of, the mastery of the thing”. If there was ever a poet meant to be read aloud, it is Hopkins. The sheer intricacy of the rhyme in Hopkins is breathtaking, the density of assonance that makes his work a thing to be savoured mouthful by slow mouthful.
What’s incredible about The Windhover is the way the verse itself conveys the sense of something circling, shifting restlessly, something exquisitely balanced yet tremendously soaring. You can feel the tension here, can sense the muscles straining to align themselves perfectly to the wind, the poem itself shifting smoothly from current to curent, line to line, a flight carefully constructed, yet achieved, unmatched in its grace and power. There is nothing easy about this, every word and every phrase in this poem has been carefully selected, weighed and hand-carved with the skill of a true master. But in the end all that sheer plod makes the sillion shine, and the sound of words falling through the air gash the heart of the amazed listener gold-vermilion.
P.S. I’ve been meaning to run Hopkins for a while now, but a poem like the Windhover is one I wouldn’t dare even attempt reading aloud. So I was delighted to find this Richard Austin reading on the Net (courtesy of the Victorian Web).