Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

`YOU'VE MADE your point,' said Jeremy Paxman or one of his disciples on Newsnight. It made me jump a little because my husband has been trying to interest me in falconry, and I had got as far as learning that when a hawk makes her point she rises in the air over the spot where her quarry is hiding.

Everyone loves hawks for their beauty, though I suppose that their use to catch prey is as open to objection as fox-hunting. Shakespeare is full of terms from falconry, and even scholastic Hopkins made a kestrel the subject of one of his most successful sonnets, `The Windhover'.

But just as sailors explain every figure of speech in maritime terms, and carpenters regard Hamlet's hawk and handsaw as a reference to the tools of their mystery, so falconers see their art behind every common word. In one of his sonnets of desolation does Hopkins, with the phrase `pitched past pitch of grief , have in mind the pitch - the height to which the hawk rises in the air while waiting for game to be flushed? …

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