The Windhover

By Gerard Manley Hopkins


“The Windhover,” written by Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877, stands out as one of the most profound and linguistically innovative poems of the Victorian era. Hopkins, a Jesuit priest, and poet, is renowned for his invention of Sprung Rhythm and his vivid, dense poetic style. This poem, also known as “To Christ our Lord,” captures the mesmerizing flight of a kestrel, using this image as a metaphor to explore themes of transcendence, beauty, and spiritual aspiration.

The genre of the poem blends elements of romanticism with Hopkins’ unique religious and poetic sensibilities, presenting a vibrant interaction between nature and spiritual contemplation. 🌿✨

Meaning of The Windhover

Opening section
The poem begins with the speaker observing the windhover in the morning’s “minion” or favored atmosphere. Hopkins uses vivid imagery to portray the bird’s mastery in the air: “I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin.” This section sets the stage by focusing on the kestrel’s control and majesty.

Mid section
In the middle of the poem, the windhover is described performing breathtaking maneuvers in the air. Hopkins’ language mirrors the bird’s movements with phrases that swoop and dive on the page: “Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here buckle!”
The poet emphasizes the bird’s dynamic energy and the grace found in its natural instincts.

Concluding section
The final lines draw a parallel between the bird and Christ: “My heart in hiding stirred for a bird – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!”
Hopkins reveals the spiritual epiphany the sight inspires, contemplating the bird’s flight as a metaphor for Christ’s grandeur and sacrifice.

In-depth Analysis

Stanza One —

  • Themes and Symbols: Mastery and Freedom
  • Literary Techniques: Use of alliteration in “morning’s minion” and inversion in “kingdom of daylight’s dauphin” accentuates the rhythm and highlights the bird’s royal status in nature.

Stanza Two —

  • Themes and Symbols: Artistry in nature
  • Figurative Language: Similes and metaphors liken the bird’s movements to a knight or a dancer, enriching the visual imagery.

Stanza Three —

  • Syntax and Diction: Complex constructions and compound phrases mimic the swift, complex movements of the windhover.
  • Literary Techniques: Sprung rhythm gives a feeling of unpredictability and excitement, mirroring the bird’s flight.

Stanza Four —

  • Themes and Symbols: Transformation and Power
  • Literary Techniques: Dramatic monologue elements make the description more vivid and personal; “And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!”
  • Figurative Language: Hyperbole emphasizes the magnificence and danger of the bird’s power.

Stanza Five —

  • Syntax and Diction: Hopkins uses terse, compressed expressions that explode with meaning, much like the actions of the windhover.
  • Literary Techniques: Imagery of fire and breaking in “And the fire that breaks from thee then” suggests sudden, radiant beauty.

Stanza Six —

  • Themes and Symbols: Sublimity in the mundane, reflection of divine in nature.
  • Literary Techniques: The final metaphor of the bird as a ‘chevalier’—a knight—ties its natural prowess to spiritual warfare and nobility.

Each stanza of “The Windhover” is carefully constructed to mirror the physical and spiritual characteristics of the bird, using a complex array of poetic devices that enrich the reader’s understanding of Hopkins’ spiritual metaphor.

Poetic Devices used in The Windhover

Alliteration“morning’s minion” emphasizes the m sounds
Assonance“achieve of, the mastery” highlights the soft e sounds
Consonance“buckle and the belt” repeats the b and l sounds
Metaphor“kingdom of daylight’s dauphin” refers to the bird as a prince
Simile“like a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend”
Synecdoche“the fire that breaks from thee then” – fire representing energy and passion
PersonificationThe windhover is given royal and human attributes
Hyperbole“buckle” exaggerates the bird’s sudden and intense movement
Onomatopoeia“swoop” captures the sound and action of the bird diving
Oxymoron“brute beauty” combines opposing ideas to highlight complexity

The Windhover – FAQs

What is the main theme of ‘The Windhover’?
The main themes are the majesty and beauty of nature, spiritual reflection, and the power of observation.

Why does Hopkins use the term ‘dauphin’ to describe the bird?
‘Dauphin’ is used to denote the bird’s royal-like command over its environment, comparing its mastery to that of a prince.

How does the poem’s form contribute to its meaning?
The Sprung Rhythm and dense imagery reflect the dynamic and powerful movements of the windhover, enhancing the thematic expression of beauty and mastery.

What does the ‘buckle’ in ‘The Windhover’ refer to?
In the poem, ‘buckle’ refers to the sudden and intense maneuver of the bird in mid-air, symbolizing moments of revelation or spiritual realization.

How does the structure of the poem enhance its themes?
The structured tercets (three-line stanzas) and the consistent but varied rhyme scheme reflect the balance between form and freedom, much like the windhover’s flight, which is both controlled and wildly free.

Can ‘The Windhover’ be seen as an example of Romantic poetry?
Yes, while it is deeply embedded in Victorian sensibilities and Hopkins’ own religious context, its emphasis on emotion, nature, and individualism aligns closely with Romantic themes.

The Windhover Study Guide

Exercise: Identify all poetic devices used in the following verse: “I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding”

Answer Key:

  • Alliteration: morning’s minion
  • Assonance: kingdom of daylight
  • Metaphor: kingdom of daylight’s dauphin
  • Epithet: dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon

This comprehensive breakdown will help guide your study and appreciation of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ richly woven poetic landscape in “The Windhover.”