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Well Becoming

a blog about being well, becoming well, staying well - and flourishing. Written by a professor and family doctor living between Liverpool, UK and Granada, Spain

Stage 6: Delight
Sunday, April 15, 2018 @ 10:22 AM

Today we complete our journey from despair to delight, with six of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sonnets as our travel guide. To celebrate, we share his pleasure in his own favourite poem, The Windhover:

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-vermilion.


This sonnet really does work best when you read it out loud.  It takes a few goes to get the rhythm of it, especially the first few lines. Do try it yourself -  you’ll soon find you are flying with the falcon, up and down, barely taking a breath until the first full stop arrives, half way though line seven.

Then you can have a rest and check out some of the words and images. In line 2,’ dauphin’ means ‘crown prince’. In line 6 the imagery is ice-skating – for us today it could as easily be skiing in the Alps, or surfing the waves of Cornwall. Lines 9-11 give the image of the prince on horseback fastening (buckling) together his armour. In lines 12-13, ‘plough down sillion shine’ refers to the way that soil, when turned over by a plough, becomes big and shiny.  In the final line, ‘gall’ means graze or scrape, and ‘gold-vermilion’ is the colour of fire, or fresh blood.

Hopkins used the word inscape to refer to the charged essence of a thing (a tree, a landscape, a sunset or – in this case – a falcon); the absolute individuality that gives each thing its being, its uniqueness, its sanctity, its purpose in the world.  He created a second word, instress, to refer to the energy that holds the thing together and – importantly – to the impulse which carries it whole into the mind of the person seeing it.  His heart stirs for the falcon, he is at one with it in its mastery of the air.

We can gain profound courage from this sonnet. The beauty and joy of the falcon, ecstatically riding the wind, infuses with his energy not only Hopkins the poet but also ourselves the readers. It prompts us to celebrate those moments in our own lives when we feel effortlessly magnificent and free.

He inspires us to believe in a glittering luminous core to our own being - a core not crushed by the ‘sheer plod’ of our daily activities, but brought by them to the surface, honed and sparkling in the sun.

And all this in full awareness that our existence is precious but precarious; that danger or death may be lurking around the corner. An awareness that only heightens the intensity of our joy for life in the present moment.

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