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The Windhover

July 20, 2021

We went on vacation last week. It was wonderful.

We rented a house on Isle of Palms, where we’ve been going since before our kids were born. The other family who has always gone with us came and all our children were able to come! I hadn’t seen my youngest since before the pandemic but he flew in, and his girlfriend came with him, and my older child came with her girlfriend and we all had a fabulous time together.

We watched the waves come in and made sand castles, as in my two postcard poems about Isle of Palms. Our first sand castle effort was the sphinx with two pyramids as background.

Our second was an octopus’ garden, dominated by a big octopus.

We went to a few restaurants and sat outside: the Boathouse, the Wreck, 82 Queen Street, Coconut Joe’s, and Shem Creek Crab House. We took the boat to Fort Sumter. Although we didn’t do a few of the things we’ve enjoyed in the past (crabbing, kayaking, boat rides to Capers Island) we had enough time to do lots of nothing.

And we played games in person, the ones we couldn’t play over the internet during the last year: Charades, Telephone Pictionary, A Fake Artist Goes to New York, Codenames, the Forehead game, Rage.

One morning, along about noon, as we were sitting under beach umbrellas thinking about going in for lunch and watching the pelicans and sandpipers and seagulls, one of us pulled up the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem “The Windhover” and another of us read it out loud, there on the beach. It was wonderful—wonderful that I got to hang out with people who think of that poem when they see birds wheeling and wonderful that the words of the poem are so good out loud.

The Windhover
To Christ our Lord

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: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Hearing it out loud, on that beach, made me appreciate anew the pause between “the achieve of” and “the mastery of the thing!” It’s marvelous that we can hear the pause for effort, that intake of breath before something takes off.

Now we’re back home, but I feel that for a while I was soaring.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2021 2:16 pm

    Yay for good vacations, family and friends. Love the pome. Though with all the alliteration it must have been a tongue twister at times to read aloud.

    • July 21, 2021 11:11 am

      It can be difficult to read out loud, which is part of the point (where you pause) but I’m proud to say it was the former Kenyon student, Walker’s girlfriend, who thought of it and pulled it up, and it was he who read it out loud. He’s a great reader. Maybe some of that comes from being a student of languages, but some of it is just practice; we have always read things out loud to each other, particularly poetry.

  2. July 20, 2021 7:32 pm

    How wonderful! I know seeing your youngest again after so long must have made your heart sing.

  3. July 21, 2021 7:00 am

    Awww, I’m so glad you had a good vacation, friend. You deserve it! I love your octopus and your pyramids, and what is A Fake Artist Goes to New York?

    • July 21, 2021 11:08 am

      A Fake Artist goes to New York is a board game, sold by Oink games at Amazon and Target and places like that. Walker played it with some friends and at his urging we bought the game several Christmases ago. It’s fun in the board game version but we quickly learned that all we need to play it is some pieces of paper and a small-ish white board (ours is about 10X18 inches). We took the white board to the beach with us specially to play this game.

  4. lemming permalink
    July 21, 2021 9:48 am

    Absolutely perfect poem for the moment and for the post. I too would like to know about “The Artist formerly known as The Fake Artist Goes…”

    • July 21, 2021 11:09 am

      As I said to Jenny above, you can buy the board game, or you can play it with paper and a white board. The rules are online.

  5. July 21, 2021 7:38 pm

    Lovely! When I am sick and tired, it’s the beach that I want to go to. Glad you had such a nice time.

    • July 23, 2021 1:18 pm

      I always want to go to the beach, and it was particularly lovely after such a year. I had to work hard in June and early July to be able to walk as far as I wanted to while we were there, and I succeeded well enough. There’s really no other incentive that works as well to get me on my feet as walking out to see the ocean.

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