The Re­ward of Awe

Wexford People - - NEWS - WITH JOHN J KELLY

Oh let’s take a risk, or at least let us look at some­thing from a dif­fer­ent an­gle. Ask a dif­fer­ent ques­tion! Sure, we can take a well known, pop­u­lar, bril­liant poem and thrash out all the reg­u­lar ob­ser­va­tions and noises, dis­sect, an­a­lyse and con­clude ex­actly the way it’s been done a hun­dred thou­sand times be­fore, and yes, tick the boxes that give the marks, that boost the points that earn the col­lege places and on it goes, blah-de-blah.

But come on, let’s take a step on the road less trav­elled, and yet do so in a fully re­spect­ful man­ner, and hope­fully in­clude due homage to the tried and trusted, but at the same time maybe broaden our gaze ever so slightly, let us ask the ques­tion ‘Why?’.

Ger­ard Manley Hop­kins (1844-1889) was born in Strat­ford, Eng­land. A Je­suit priest, he died at the rel­a­tively young age of 44 and full ap­pre­ci­a­tion of his writ­ing prow­ess, like many a fine poet was post­hu­mous, so, con­clu­sive an­swers to ques­tions about his writ­ing do not ex­ist.

Nonethe­less, there is lit­tle doubt­ing that his work cen­tred around the ado­ra­tion of God, and is great tes­ti­mony to his prob­a­ble strong faith in the Almighty. One of the finest ex­am­ples of his tal­ent and un­usual writ­ing style can be found in that mas­ter­ful poem, ‘The Wind­hover’.

As men­tioned, we can firstly pay it due homage, mark what a fine piece it is, ap­pre­ci­ate its liv­ing rhythm, its old dic­tion, its al­lit­er­a­tion, metaphors and in­ter­nal rhymes (which are won­der­ful), dis­sect its com­plex­i­ties and im­agery, Chris­tian sym­bol­ism, marvel at the beau­ti­ful ac­cu­racy with which he cap­tures and shares the de­scrip­tion of the fal­con, and then con­clude, as usual with the work of Hop­kins, that the poem’s theme is ac­tu­ally re­lated to his praise of Christ, rather than about the bird at all! Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and lazy!

Some would have us be­lieve that Hop­kins awoke this par­tic­u­lar morn­ing, reached for his parch­ment and quill, or his pa­per and ink, trooped out into the fields and tasked him­self with the chal­lenge of dif­fer­ent ways to praise the Lord. How shall I cap­ture His di­vin­ity to­day?

This ap­proach to the works of Hop­kins is over sim­plis­tic, and is akin to putting the cart be­fore the horse. On this oc­ca­sion, fol­low­ing his en­counter with the fal­con, I sug­gest, he was sim­ply, and yet ma­jes­ti­cally, struck by what he saw! He was ar­rested in his tracks! Per­haps it even res­cued him for a mo­ment? Was he hav­ing a dark day? He says him­self his heart was hid­ing. A cri­sis of faith? Car­ry­ing a head full of woe? It hap­pens to us all, at some time or other.

We find our­selves pos­si­bly ut­ter­ing one of the fol­low­ing phrases when knocked side­ways by wonder: ‘Lord above, would you just look at that!’ or ‘God, isn’t na­ture amazing all the same!’

It’s like a time-out, a fo­cussing, a med­i­ta­tive mo­ment. We look, we stop, we ad­mire, we cher­ish. It gives con­text and or­der. Some­thing cre­ates this, al­lows it to be, and for a brief few sec­onds, all is good. It might be shoot­ing stars or re­turn­ing swal­lows. We are tem­porar­ily healed by a Great­ness. I like to think of it as that over­pow­er­ing weak­ness, yet warm re­ward that ac­com­pa­nies awe. Whether that be Godly or not.

Yes, Hop­kins con­stantly re­minds us that he thinks these things ul­ti­mately Godly, but we should not al­ways fast for­ward to the con­clu­sions of his work. In read­ing it, we should dwell a while on how he gets there.

And back to the ‘Why?’ Maybe he knew that all which he saw he may never un­der­stand, and hoped that all he un­der­stood, he may yet see. He be­lieved in God, but just as im­por­tantly he be­lieved in the signs of God. He recorded them ‘to’ God, not ‘for’ God. But for now, for him, in pri­vacy, the wonder of the bird cre­ated or­der. An or­der that un­der­pinned his faith. That is the ‘Why?’ And the writ­ing is beau­ti­ful.

I caught this morn­ing morn­ing’s min­ion, king­dom 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!

(Ger­ard Manley Hop­kins is buried in Glas­nevin Ceme­tery, Dublin). John J Kelly is a mul­ti­ple award-win­ning poet from En­nis­cor­thy. He is the co-founder of the An­thony Cronin Po­etry Award with the Wex­ford Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val and co-or­di­na­tor of po­etry work­shops for schools lo­cally. Each week, John’s col­umn will deal mainly with nov­els, plays and po­ems from both the Leav­ing Cer­tifi­cate syl­labus and Ju­nior Cer­tifi­cate syl­labus. kel­

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