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Today, a sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins, who wrote at the end of the 19th century. He converted to Catholicism and became a Jesuit priest, and is best known for working with something he called "sprung rhythm", which was based in early Anglo-Saxon rhythms involving the placement of stressed syllables within a line and relying in part of repetition of words and sounds within a line. Rather than using iambic pentameter or any other fixed metre, his lines vary in length and placement of stressed syllables (akin to accentual verse), giving them a unique, organic feel and foreshadowing the coming of free verse.

If you have a few moments, read this one aloud, and you'll get the feel for what Hopkins was up to with his craft.

The Windhover
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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: sheer plod makes plough down sillion*
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

*sillion: thick body of soil that has been turned over by the plough
And if you're wondering, a "windhover" is a kestrel. This particular one is riding a thermal, and Hopkins is, in his imagination, riding the kestrel.

Discussion of form: This poem takes the form of an Italianate or Petrarchan sonnet: it's 14-lines long, and it uses the rhyme form ABBAABBA CDC DCD. It uses Hopkins's sprung verse, and it's a thing of true beauty.

If you're so inclined, there's a gorgeous essay by Ange Mlinko over at the Poetry Foundation, which makes the case that the poem is a love letter to life. Mlinko breaks the poem down, working through those first few lines in a smart way, and continues from there. The essay includes more detail about Hopkins's life and also more details about the poem.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 12th, 2013 08:44 am (UTC)
I'll be honest, Hopkins is pretty much the only poet I actually like anymore. I was reciting to myself in the car the other day, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God, it will flame out, like shining from shook foil..." The words of his poems just taste good in the mouth and when you do it aloud, that one in particular if you have the courage to do the "with ah! bright wings" is really lovely.

My burning question is, how does one pronounce his first name? I had an MK from Ireland as my roommate in college who told me if I said "Jer-rard" she would smack me, I had to say "Jared."

Yeah, I don't know why I don't have patience for poetry anymore. I got some recognition for my own stuff, once upon a time. In grad. school I turned in a series of my midrash poems in place of a term paper (got an A, IIRC). But it's all gone now.
Apr. 12th, 2013 10:17 pm (UTC)
Most Americans say jer-ARD (like Gerard Butler). But some Brits say GER-ahd, with the second R being sort of implied, and others say GER-ard. Depends, I believe, where you're from. And I don't know that Gerard Manley Hopkins left his preferred pronunciation carved in any stone . . .

I hope you find some other poets who speak to you, too, but Hopkins is pretty great, if you have to have only one.
Apr. 12th, 2013 10:37 pm (UTC)
Well, there is always Don Marquis. But I don't know if free verse from the point of view of a cockroach counts...

I do have days I like e e cummings. "somewhere i have never travelled" is an awesome poem. But for some reason mostly when I read poetry these days I feel an overwhelming impatience. An odd sentiment from someone who made it all the way through the "Gormenghast" trilogy.
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