This article analyzes some of the problematics of allegorical reading and suggests a method of reading poetry by paying attention to the impenetrable“thingness” of tropes and figures, using as an example a poem notorious for the prevalence of allegory in the history of its interpretations, “The Windhover” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Contending that the variety of the interpretations of this sonnet reveal the inconsistency and arbitrariness of the allegorical method, I also draw attention to commentators' lack of rigorous understanding of the allegorical pretext, the failure to distinguish between allegory and symbol,allegoresis, and typology. A study of the lability of the terms used to advance the Christological reading reveals that they do not sustain a reference to a single emblematic figure and, extrapolating more broadly from this discovery, that allegorical readings in general have severe drawbacks. In conclusion, I propose that the “ungrammaticality” of “The Windhover'”s tropes and the importance of the notion of“thing” puts Hopkins in proximity to the problems of the later modernist poets, such as William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, who struggle with the paradoxical ability of the conceptualizing power of mind to simultaneously apprehend an external object and to distance us further from it.
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Peter Cosgrove; Hopkins's “The Windhover”: Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself. Poetics Today 1 September 2004; 25 (3): 437–464. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-25-3-437
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