Posts Tagged ‘The Windhover’

The Day of the Dawn

January 19, 2009

Picture a lone figure out on the cliffs. It’s still dark and he is worried he might misstep—badly—you could fall off the edge out here and no one would know. Below is the sea, but also rocks and a cove that gets washed by the tide. It’s forty, fifty feet down. Fall and you’re dead. So he’s careful. Above him is a parchment of clouds, and beyond that, truly, the heavens. It’s cold, and as the sun starts to rise, so does the breeze…

I caught this morning morning’s minion,

At least that’s the picture I’m drawing: A black cassock against a black sky. Father Hopkins out on a precipice seeing God in a falcon’s flight

the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

throne1It’s always been one of my favorite poems, The Windhover. Subtitled: To Christ our Lord. And it seems fair to examine the vocabulary of a poem—a minion in the kingdom of daylight’s dauphin. O my chevalier!—though I guess it’s not surprising to find European heraldry in the way people talk about a god that grew up in the European middle ages. After all, the bumper sticker proclaims ‘Jesus is Lord’, not ‘Jesus is Vice-President’.

So, hovering on the edge of the sun, sea, clouds and sky—in the king-dom of daylight’s dauphin—is a bird, a falcon drawn by the dawn and the icy sea, a falcon who is supported by—of all things—the atmosphere.

…in his riding/ Of the rolling level underneath him steady air

Day is in sharp contrast to night, one of the simplest of oppositions known to man, at least until the invention of the light bulb. “It’s always night, or else we wouldn’t need light.”—as Thelonious Monk states the case (see the superscription to Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day). Look up ‘dauphin’ and you’ll find a direct link to the eldest son of the king of France, a prince, waiting in the wings to take over the throne, so the dawn and the ensuing daylight must be the kingdom of Christ, the savior of mankind, the one who is next in line to that sun rising amidst a bust of rays and cloud-reflected light: the sunrise is beautiful, isn’t it? Of course, the bird is a mere minion in the picture, with Father Hopkins and the rest of mankind in the middle of the Great Chain of Being—a worldview which we probably think of today as being ‘poetic’, which can be a polite way of saying ‘not true’. Night is against the day.

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