May 06, 2008

Remember Wonder?

The Windhover: Gerard Manley Hopkins

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-vermillion.

This poem has been on my mind for the last couple of days, initially because I received an email from a former student who signed herself "former student, forever minion!" As you may know, "minion" is one of my favorite words, and I used to pretend to joke with my students that I wanted "minions" ... it's nice to see that someone was paying attention!

Anyhow, I think this is a fantastic poem because it's so challenging. If you're not a poem person, I challenge you to read this poem aloud now rather than just punting or skimming to the end of this entry to see if I sneak in something funny. Go ahead and read it; we'll wait. When you read it, really read it out, and try to find the syntax of the sentences--it will help a lot. Read it more than once if you want.

I love the alliteration, obviously, and I like the way the diction and rhythm of the poem force you out of any possible complacency with the content. The first line of the last stanza has what, six stressed syllables in a row? Did you catch that? Wild stuff.

The speaker seems to be taken with the beauty of the bird in flight to the point of some kind of religious ecstasy that strikes me as more pagan than Christian in spite of the footnotes that usually come with this poem. I don't much like "Stirred for a bird," but I can forgive it based on "the achieve of; the mastery of the thing." I'm not a big fan of nouning verbs that way, but in this case it seems to me that the speaker is almost pushed beyond words by what he's seeing.

That takes us into the poem's last bit, which I confess I don't see even though I like the sound of it ... I feel like I'll just have to take his word for it. But that's okay--it still works somehow.

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