Saturday, May 9, 2009
As promised, a real live English language Italian sonnet. Of course, I have to admit I am most fascinated by sonnets that push the boundaries of the form, & this one—even tho written in the late 19th century—certainly does that.
“The Windhover” was written by British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, an important precursor or bridge from 19th century poetry to the modernist era & beyond. Tho his poems are quite different than Emily Dickinson’s, he shares this precursor role with her, as he also shares that fact that few of his poems were published in his lifetime.
For those of you who don’t know, Hopkins was a Jesuit priest (a convert from the Anglican church), & a man with a most complicated biography. He was prone to massive fits of depression, & may have suffered from what we now know as manic depression. It appears that he also was uncomfortable in his sexual orientation; it is known that he developed a passion for Digby Mackworth Dolben, a classmate at Eton (also poet Robert Bridges’ cousin); at a certain point, Hopkins Anglican confessor forbade him to see Dolben in person, tho Hopkins was still allowed to keep up a correspondence with the other man.
Thru all his personal turmoil, Hopkins was able to write some truly unique & beautiful poetry, practically all of which deals with religious themes & imagery. He was fond of using the sonnet form, & he did so to great effect. Hopkins’s sonnets are among the most pyrotechnic in the language (& one doesn’t usually think “fireworks” when one thinks “sonnet”). In “The Windhover,” Hopkins observes a falcon hovering in the wind, as tho he controlled it; in the sestet the falcon becomes an image of Christ, whose mastery is “a billion/Times told lovelier, more dangerous….”
As is always the case in Hopkins’ poetry, the rhythm is very strong; he was interested in both Anglo-Saxon poetry & speech rhythms, & tried to incorporate these stress patterns into a system he called “sprung rhythm.” Note the diacritical marks on "sheer plod" in the 12th line; Hopkins frequently used such marks to indicate stress patterns. It’s also noteworthy in this particular sonnet that while the rhyme pattern of the octave is 1A, 2B, 3B, 4A, 5A, 6B, 7B, 8A, there is a strong echo between the rhyming sounds “ing” (A) & “iding” (B).
Hope you enjoy this truly wonderful poem.
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-vermillion.