I was thirteen when I was first introduced to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
I had been given an assignment (I think) to write a poem, and for some strange reason, the teacher was deeply impressed with my effort.
She was a towering personage, austere, and much given to terrifying everyone–most particularly young teenagers. But for some peculiar reason she liked me. Even more peculiarly, I rather liked her. And it was perhaps in her notes on my work that she made reference to Hopkins.
I had never heard of him.
But such was my respect for her and my curiosity that I called at the convent where she lived, for she promised she would lend me a book which had some of his work.
I was not asked in, but stood, awkward and sceptical on the convent doorstep–as out of place as an adolescent could hope to be–waiting in the cold for her to fetch the book.
The book, a collection of poetry from all over the world, had three of his poems, but it’s Pied Beauty and The Windhover which from the moment I read them began–as they continue to do all these years later–changing my view of the world about me and of language itself.
Since then, I have found myself caught by nature in a kind of rapt wonder. And have been seeking, so often seeking, to capture that in words so that my readers, as Hopkins’ readers do, look again and feel for as it were the first time. Whether it’s the magic of the rumble of horses cantering and how that shakes the ground, how it feels to be a part of that speed as a rider, how the sky looks in winter or how the snow changes the landscape.
Hopkins taught me to listen and to look.
I admire Hopkins too because he’s not afraid to use all the wonders of the language, the rhythms, assonance and alliteration, and cadences to create something which has a music all of its own. It’s poetry at its best and like all poets, he has so much to teach any writer.
I wouldn’t be without him.
From The Windhover
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.