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Colm’s story: ‘The Windhover’ Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Posted by carryapoem in Stories.

i caught this morning morning’s minion…
i caught this morning morning’s minion…
i caught this morning morning’s minion….

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ ‘The Windhover’ is a poem that’s followed me around all through my life. It’s like a long lost friend I meet mooching outside and leads me astray when I really should be somewhere doing something far more wholesome.

I learnt the poem in school for my Inter Cert, by heart, initially in fear of my English teacher, a man who inspired terror in even the cheekiest young fellas in my Christian Brother’s school.  Lamentably this was because of his legendary bad temper and occasional violence, an unpleasantness that my memory glosses over in tribute for the genuine passion for books, reading and life that he imparted in the 5 years he taught (nay, inspired) me. We learnt about all the schooley stuff; the sprung rhythm, God’s Glory reflected in his creation, the giddy excitement of nature in the raw and Hopkins’ teaching life across the Shannon in Mungret College, which faced Barringtons Pier, a small nook in the river near our school that was scene of some of the more scandalous and debauched moments of my adolescence.

But that’s not my story, it’s not why I carry the poem with me, it’s only the groundwork.

In actual fact I can’t remember the occasion as I’ve only had it related to me.

A few years after I’d left school and had got a good bit of practise with this debauchery malarkey I was hanging out with my cousin and our friends in a rented basement flat in Dublin.  The flat was shared by old school friends and my cousins girlfriend, now wife, and had become a social nexus for a lot of us, past schoolmates, extended relatives and new comrades just up off the bus from Limerick.  The flat was occasionally used for raves, a few of us lugging turntables and a few boxes of vinyl down the stairs for post-club, day-long boozy basement sessions that everyone gets misty-eyed and nostalgic for now we’re all fully grown.

After a particularly strenuous party, my cousin, eager to get back to my auntie’s in time for sunday lunch found me asleep, boots on, in the deep enamel bath.  He tried to rouse me and get me out on the way for an early bus back out to the ‘burbs.  He alleges when he managed to get my eyes open, I looked him dead in the eye and recited, word for word, the entire first octet ‘The Windhover’ to him before falling back into an unbreakable slumber. He left me there, I awoke hours later with a crick in my neck and a pain in my head.  He has since related this story many times, most memorably at my wedding. I still feel my boots on the edge of the bath when he tells it.

The poem’s rhythm and enthusiasm, it’s lively wide-eyed joy, it’s innocence and mystic tone reminds me of those days, when we’re young, foolish, invincible and having the best time ever.

‘The Windhover’ still floats around my head, when I do my infrequent walks of shame home with the sun of summers early dawn glinting on the port of Leith, knowing I’m up way past my bedtime and probably far too old to be tottering home so late/early/at that stage it’s both.

But the warmth of the sun sobers me up and I am “morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dappled-dawn-drawn falcon in (my) riding of the rolling level undeneath (me)”.  The sun hasn’t sobered me completely and I smile as I tiptoe up the stairs to sleep.

Colm is a champion for reading.

Poet Andrew Philip chose the same poem as his carry a poem, and comedian Phil Kay also chose it as his classic poem choice on the SPL Reading Room

Andrew’s story: Thursday, 3 December 2009

Posted by carryapoem in Stories.
1 comment so far

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).