TV-ing it    7                                                                                                                                                         Posted 7th September 2013

Tom Cotter's "Windhover" was a strange one. Looking for a way into the me and poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, it opted for what seemed to me an essentially mythic approach. There was some lip-service to the historical stages of his life but at the centre of the film were several recurring images taking place in a kind of perpetual present tense.

The burning of his papers by the Jesuits in Dublin was always taking place, he was always climbing a hill, the hawk was forever hovering, waiting to be caught in his eyes and have its stretched wings fused into the outspread arms of Jesus on the cross.

The contrivance involved in all of this bothered me. It savoured of academic hindsight, that morbid pathology whereby the continuous doubts that have galvanised an artist's life are arranged into a spurious order that leads inevitably to the works to be explained. This tends to simplify the psychic risks real writers take, and writers don"t come any more real than Hopkins.

But, if you could accept the artistic manipulation of the known aspects of Hopkins' life, the rewards were considerable. The film succinctly and stunningly revealed the complex of paradoxes at the centre of Hopkins' nature: so ascetic that a piece of fruit could ravish his palate; so dedicated to poverty that his senses reminted the physical world every day into uncountable wealth; so physically chaste that his sensuousness became an orgy:

                                               How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe
                                                     Will, mouthed to flesh-burst,
                                               Gush!—flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet,
                                               Brim, in a flash, full!..

(From "The Wreck of the Deutschland")

(The quotation wasn't in the original newspaper column. I add it here because it expresses exactly what I meant and I just love those words.)

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