As Kingfishers Catch Fire
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
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 grace: 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.
A beautiful reading of “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by the Wordman
What is a Kingfisher?
The common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is a sparrow-sized bird with a typical short-tailed, large-headed kingfisher profile, blue upper parts, orange underparts and a long bill. It feeds mainly on fish, caught by diving, and has special visual adaptations to enable it to see prey under water. Its glossy white eggs are laid in a nest at the end of a burrow in a riverbank.
The common kingfisher was first described by Carl Linnaeus in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae in 1758 as Gracula atthis. The modern binomial name derives from the Latin alcedo, “kingfisher” (from Greek ἀλκυών, halcyon) and Atthis, a beautiful young woman of Lesbos, and favourite of Sappho.
Description adapted from Wikipedia. See additional photos and listen to kingfisher sounds at Internet Bird Collection (IBC).
If you would like to read more of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry, I recommend the Oxford anthology of his work. It includes all the poems and some of his prose, and seems the most complete collection available at this time. I like it well enough that I’m thinking of making a leather cover to make it more durable (I like to have poetry with me when I travel).
Titles inspired by the poem
As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God by pastor and professor Eugene H. Peterson. According to the publisher, the 49 brief sermons in the book describe “Peterson’s journey to live and teach a life of congruence—congruence between preaching and living, between what we do and the way we do it, between what is written in Scripture and how we live out that truth.”
A new book titled As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Alex Preston was reviewed in The Guardian earlier this year. Described as “part memoir, part anthology, part nature writing, part critical treatise, part coffee-table book, with biographical snippets about various writers, relatives and ornithologists thrown in for good measure”, the book sounds like a treat for the literary birdwatcher, though it may be available only in the UK. Enjoy!
Photo attribution: Kingfisher photo in the post graphic is by Joefrei (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Provided description: “A kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) in hovering flight in the nature reserve “Berke Laue II” (NSG BOR-070) in 48691 Vreden. This photo was taken from a camouflage tent. Grit of Berkel (southeast of lake Berkel and B70).”
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