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'THE WINDHOVER' AND THE PATRISTIC EXEGETICAL TRADITION BRUCE WALLIS In an effort to stress the need for more controlled reading of Hopkins' poetry, criticism of the last decade Or so has emphasized some of the misunderstanclings that may arise when we attempt to project our own attitudes and world views upon a writer whose fundamental vision may have been different from ours. A number of writers have drawn upon Thomistic, Loyolan, and Scotist philosophy, in order to relocate the poet in a theological tradition in which reality does not admit of the same proliferation of meanings that it does in our own relativistic (or pluralistic) universe.' Since these analyses restrict themselves primarily to the poet's Christian-philosophical background, however, it seems appropriate that an attempt be made as well briefly to investigate his Christian-poetic background - that is, to examine characteristic approaches of the Church Fathers to the handling of symbol and metaphor - to discover whether in this area, too, the poet is operating within fairly circumscribed, if not pre-established boundaries. Both because it centres upon a Single dominating symbol, and because it has received as varied an array of interpretations as any poem might hope to elicit, no poem of Hopkins yields so well to such an investigation as 'The Windhover.' The hawk, of which Hopkins' windhover is a type, is rather a rara avis in the Bible. In the few places it appears, however, it is ineVitably linked to its generic relative, the eagle. In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, the two birds figure together in the Jewish dietary laws. In Job 39:26-7, both mount up and lIy by the wisdom of God. Both are diurnal birds of prey of the falcon family (American College Dictionary). Both are similar in appearance and lIight. In older paintings and illuminations, it is usually possible to clistinguish between them only by context. Symbolically, the two birds are given synonymous treatment in the Fathers (their implications as symbols, of course, depending upon context), since exegesis of their symbolic function focuses upon their characteristic actions rather than upon anything else. Because the eagle is more prominent in the Scriptures, however, it has provoked a more extensive body of commentary which can be fruitfully considered in addition to that on the hawk Volume XLII Number 3, Spring 1972 'THB WINDHOVER' 247 in seeking antecedents for Hopkins' use of a bird of prey as Christian symbol. Critics have with fair unifonnity recognized Hopkins' windhover as first of all a symbol of Christ. So we might expect patristic exegesis of the SCriptures to find one of these birds a representation of Christ. Commenting on Proverbs 30: 18-19 CThere be three things which are too wonderful for me.... The way of an eagle in the air'), Rabanus Maurns, for example, interprets the eagle as typifying the 'divinitas Filii Dei." Similarly , on Deuteronomy 32: 11 CAs an eagle stirreth up her nest') he comments , 'Aquila est Christus ... quod Christus discipulos suos, ut de virtute in virtutem proliciant, monere non cessat' CAllegoriae in Sacrum Scriptorum , P.L.CXII.862).s Here two characteristic actions, the bird's Hight and its care for its own, control the interpretation. Most critics have also found in the poem the Christian man, but have seen his likeness in plough and embers which in their humbler fashion imitate the majestic bird. Yet because of its moulting, among other things, the bird itself suggests the Christian renewal. Of Job 39: 26 CDoth the hawk By by thy wisdom'), St Gregory writes: Gratia Dei veterem hominem exspoliamus. De accip'itre quaedmn notatu d·igna. - Quia per annos singuJos pennam veterem accipiter nova nascente projiciat, ac sine intermissione plumescat.... Quid est ergo accipitrem in Austro plumescere , nisi quod unusquisque sanctorum tactus Batu sancti Spiritus concalescit, et usum vetustae conversationis abjiciens, novi hominis formam sumit?' [Moralium Liber in Caput XXXIX B. Job, P.L.LXXVI.623] Augustine responds Similarly to the hawk in this verse: 'Numquid in sapientia tua plumescit accipiter? sicut in sapientia Dei, quae est Christus, novus homo paulatim innovatur, conversationem habiturus in caelestibus' CAnnotationum in Job, P.L.XXXIV.884)." In his De Bestiis et Aliis Rebus, Hugo of St...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 246-255
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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