Of Falconry

I woke up yesterday morning and noticed a Peregrine Falcon perched on the utility pole outside one of my windows. They come and sit there from time to time. So do some of the Red-Tail Hawks around the neighborhood. Rarely do they linger long enough for me to grab my camera and snap a pic. This one yesterday did, though. You’ll see it below. Not the greatest photo of a Peregrine Falcon that’s ever been shot, but the best one I’ve taken. So far.

It’s interesting, here I am in the middle of a megalopolis and yet, there is a plenitude of wildlife around. I saw a raccoon for the first time in a long while the other night. Sometimes around 5 or 6 in the morning, I’ll see coyotes trotting up and down the street. And we have skunks, rabbits, possums, along with the usual assortment of squirrels, crows, hummingbirds, sparrows, and of course, the hawks and falcons. A few rats here and there.

Yesterday’s falcon put me in mind of a poem by St. John of the Cross. He was a Spanish priest who lived in the 16th century. I guess he was also considered a mystic. I don’t know a lot about him, other than that he’s been a Catholic saint for several hundred years and he wrote some pretty good poetry.

This one is called “Of Falconry.” I cut it out of the L.A. Times Sunday Book Review section about 15 years ago. Kathleen Jones, whose book, The Poems of St. John of the Cross, I found at Google Books, says,

Falconry was a popular sport among the Spanish nobility, and the imagery of the loved one was frequently used in secular love songs of the period . . . St. John was putting a gloss on a secular poem, and turning it into an analogy of the soul’s search for God.

Searching for God is obviously not my cup of tea, nevertheless, it’s a fine poem and translated by John Frederick Nims:

Of Falconry

Upon a quest of love,
hope sturdy and steadfast,
I flew so high, so high,
I caught the prey at last.

In this divine affair,
to triumph–if I might–
I had to soar so high
I vanished out of sight.
Yet in the same ascent
my wings were failing fast–
but love arose so high
I caught the prey at last.

Just when this flight of mine
had reached its highest mark,
my eyes were dazzled so
I conquered in the dark.
I gave a blind black surge
for love–myself surpassed!
and went so high, so high
I caught the prey at last.

The higher up I went
there, in this dizzy game,
the lower I appeared,
more humble, weak, and lame.
I cried, But none can win!
and sinking fast oh fast
yet went so high, so high,
I caught the prey at last.

Then–marvelous!–I made
a thousand flights in one,
for hope of heaven will see
all it can wish, be done.
I hoped for this alone;
I hoped; was not downcast.
And went so high, so high,
I caught the prey at last.

If you’re interested, you’ll find a vastly different translation by Sims of this poem that appeared in the August 1958 issue of Poetry Magazine here.


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