80 for 80, No.2: As kingfishers catch fire – Gerard Manley Hopkins

GerardManleyHopkinsHooray look I made it to book two. Only been ALMOST TWO MONTHS since I blogged about the last one. Oh dear me pals, looks like I’ll be doing this over the next 30 years at this rate.

No.2 brings us into the world of experimental poetry with all of nature’s glorious being as the focus. Father Reverend Gerard Manley Hopkins, to give him his full title, was a British Roman Catholic convert and a Jesuit Priest who lived between 1844 and 1889, dividing his time between priesting and poeting.

GMH is a big fan of sprung rhythm, which is something I’m admittedly not familiar with, and alliteration which I’m a big fan of. This gives his poems a bouncy structure that feels very alive to me.

Here’s one of my favourite poems from the collection, 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, wo he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstacy! then off, off forth on swing,

As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

Rebuffed in 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 these 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-vermillion.

The “windhover”, in this case, appears to be a kestrel, with their amazing ability to hover in one space in midair while hunting for prey – a bird that lined the roads around the area of Wales I grew up in which, it turns out, GMH also used to grace. His love of nature and proclamations for conservation of wildness ring close to home for me as well. I think my favourite stanza in the whole collection is the following, from his poem Inversnaid. Given my career in conservation and ecology, it seems rather appropriate.

What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

I’ve never found much connection to Christian theology, I must admit, so the stanzas with greater emphasis on the glory of cold left me relatively cold compared to his sensuous descriptions of his love of nature.

The book ends with an excerpt of his diary – stargazing, and admiring flora and noting all the birds he sees. It’s really quite charming and reminds me of Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. There’s something really quite lovely about reading someone’s enjoyment of wild places and wild things. I promise to take myself into the wild more often this year.

Running Tally

Authors: Male 2

Type of literature: Short stories 1, Poetry 1

1 thought on “80 for 80, No.2: As kingfishers catch fire – Gerard Manley Hopkins”

  1. My friend posted this to me with annotations in it (in pencil in case I didn’t like them) and it was the loveliest surprise post. I’m terrible at poetry, scared of it sometimes, but I loved this SO MUCH.


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