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Andrew’s story: Thursday, 3 December 2009

Posted by carryapoem in Stories.

The first poet who truly entranced and intoxicated me was Gerard Manley Hopkins. When I was in my sixth year at high school, I decided that, if I was going to take this poetry lark seriously — and I’d decided I was — I had better read some more of the stuff, so off I went to purloin my dad’s copy of The Faber Book of Modern Verse. Hopkins was the first poet in there, and I vividly remember the experience of pacing round my bedroom reading “The Wreck of the Deutschland”: it’s the closest I’ve come to synaesthesia.

‘The Wreck … ‘, however, isn’t the poem I carry with me. That’s Hopkins’s mindbending sonnet ‘The Windhover’. At 14 lines, a sonnet is much easier to remember than the 280 lines of ‘The Wreck …’. Here are the first eight lines:

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!

I used to have the whole poem off by heart and, though it has atrophied somewhat now, lines and phrases from it are still firmly lodged there. Hopkins just seems to be pulling sounds out of one another like a magician pulling an impossible concatenation of handkerchiefs out of a pocket, if the comparison isn’t too trivial. You can feel the ecstasy and freedom of the bird in the way the lines just spill over into one another, in the breathless piling up of phrase after phrase after phrase. That ecstasy and joy simply spill out of the poem and into the reader (well, this reader anyway). I don’t think I could be without it, so I’m off to learn the whole thing by heart again …

Andrew Philip is a poet. His first full collection, The Ambulance Box (Salt, 2009) was shortlisted for the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize 2009 and highly commended in the 2009 Forward anothology. It follows two successful poetry pamphlets with HappenStance Press: poetry pamphlet publisher HappenStance Press: Tonguefire (2005) and Andrew Philip: A Sampler (2008).


1. Colm’s story: ‘The Windhover’ « Carry a Poem - Wednesday, 10 February 2010

[…] Andrew Philip chose the same poem as his carry a poem, and comedian Phil Kay also chose it as his classic poem […]

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