34. As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;

Two different people told me last week that the poetry was their favorite part of this blog. Then a friend who was reading the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins discovered the poem below for the first time and told me he couldn’t get it out of his head all week. I know what he means because the last six lines have stayed with me for years. Now that’s a poem!

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

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One Response to “34. As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;”

  1. Pat O'Donnell Says:

    I don’t know that praise is useful when its object is so obviously praiseworthy, but I love this poem so much that I can’t quite help it. I’ll at least keep it short.

    First, note how the structure echoes the message. Substantively, one point is that we are what we do — that we, like other nouns, are identified by our acts. Structurally, it’s mostly a vigorous drum-beat of nouns and verbs, reflecting (I think) the same idea. How cool is that?

    Second, if you’re favored with small kids, you might find Kingfisher affects them even though they don’t get it. I read it to our six-year-old three times. The first two times, she just said “read it again.” The third, she said “Sometimes I don’t really understand the words in poems, but I like them.”

    If singing hymns is praying twice, surely reciting Kingfisher earns at least time-and-a-half.


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