The kestrel is one of my favourite birds, and I saw it up close on a recent London Loop walk - and took the three photographs on this page; they're not the greatest pictures, as I've had to blow them up a bit, but they're mine and I was very pleased. The kestrel is richly chestnut in the afternoon sun, and although we didn't see him hover, his flight had all the grace of love and turning.
To celebrate, this week's poem is one of the great masterpieces of Hopkins, master of rhythm. I love this poem, though I don't to pretend to understand it; I think it is a poem you must not think about word by word, but as a whole, as a kind of physical intuition of a physical prescence, intellectual analysis being abnegated (though if you must know, 'sillion' is the earth turned by the plough, pregnantly curved, clean and sometimes gleaming). As well as reading the poem, you might want to look at Simon Barnes' recent article in The Times about an encounter with a kestrel, an encounter which brings to his mind the Saxon word hafoc, an hawk.
This is Gerald Manley Hopkins' The Windhover - To Christ Our Lord:
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.
ANDthe 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-vermilionvermilion a vibrant scarlet color.