'The Windhover: To Christ Our Lord' by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Oxford University Press, 19701877I caught this morning morning's minion, king-dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his ridingOf the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and glidingRebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,--the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, hereBuckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!No wonder of it: sher pld makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Windhover: To Christ Our Lord by Gerard Manley Hopkins

When I first read Gerard Manley Hopkins' "The Windhover: To Christ Our Lord," I was struck by its sheer beauty and power. The poem is a celebration of a bird of prey, the windhover, and an expression of the speaker's deep love and reverence for Christ. Hopkins is known for his innovative use of language, and this poem is a testament to his ability to create vivid and striking images with words.

Structure and Form

"The Windhover" is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme and meter. However, Hopkins' sonnet is not a traditional one. He uses a variant of the Petrarchan sonnet, in which the octave (the first eight lines) presents a problem or question and the sestet (the final six lines) provides a resolution. But Hopkins' poem deviates from this pattern in several ways.

For one, he uses a unique rhyme scheme: abbaabba cdcdc. This rhyme scheme is not found in traditional sonnets, and it creates a sense of tension and instability. Hopkins also uses a complex meter, with frequent substitutions and variations. This meter helps to create the poem's distinctive rhythm and musicality.

In addition to the formal elements, "The Windhover" also contains many allusions and references to Hopkins' religious beliefs. The title itself is a reference to Christ, who is often called the "lord of the wind" in the Bible. The windhover, a type of hawk, is also a symbol of Christ's power and majesty.

Imagery and Language

One of the most striking aspects of "The Windhover" is its use of vivid and imaginative language. Hopkins creates a sense of movement and energy with his words, and the poem is filled with rich and evocative images. For example, in the opening lines, Hopkins describes the windhover as "chevalier" and "dauphin," using French words to suggest the bird's grace and nobility. He also uses a series of metaphors to describe the bird's flight:

Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

This passage is filled with alliteration and internal rhyme, which creates a sense of momentum and propulsion. The list of nouns also emphasizes the bird's strength and power.

Hopkins' language is also deeply religious, with many references to Christ and Christian theology. In the sestet, he compares the windhover's flight to Christ's sacrifice on the cross:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
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 What I do is me: for that I came.

Hopkins' use of alliteration, assonance, and repetition in these lines creates a sense of unity and harmony, as all things are seen as part of God's creation. The final line, with its emphasis on the speaker's own identity and purpose, suggests a personal and intimate relationship with Christ.

Themes and Interpretation

"The Windhover" is a complex and multi-layered poem, with many possible interpretations. One of the most obvious themes is the celebration of beauty and power. Hopkins' language is filled with rich and vivid descriptions of the windhover, and the poem is a testament to the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

At the same time, "The Windhover" is also a deeply religious poem, in which Hopkins expresses his love and devotion to Christ. The windhover becomes a symbol of Christ's power and majesty, and the poem celebrates the glory and wonder of God's creation.

Finally, "The Windhover" has been interpreted as a metaphor for the poet's own struggle with faith and doubt. Hopkins was a deeply religious man, but he also struggled with doubts and uncertainties about his faith. The poem's complex structure and language may reflect this struggle, as Hopkins uses formal experimentation to express his spiritual and emotional turmoil.


"The Windhover" is a masterpiece of English poetry, and one of Gerard Manley Hopkins' finest works. The poem is a celebration of beauty, power, and faith, and it showcases Hopkins' innovative use of language and form. Its imagery is vivid and striking, and its themes are deep and complex. "The Windhover" is a poem that rewards repeated readings and careful study, and it remains a powerful and inspiring work of art.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Gerard Manley Hopkins, a renowned English poet, wrote "The Windhover: To Christ Our Lord" in 1877. The poem is a sonnet that describes the beauty and majesty of a bird, the windhover, and its flight. However, the poem is not just about a bird; it is a religious poem that praises Christ and his sacrifice. Hopkins uses his unique style of poetry, known as "sprung rhythm," to create a musical and rhythmic effect that enhances the poem's meaning and emotion.

The poem begins with the speaker observing the windhover, a type of falcon, as it hovers in the air. The speaker describes the bird's movements in detail, using words like "dapple-dawn-drawn" and "kingdom of daylight's dauphin." These words create a vivid image of the bird's flight and its beauty. The speaker is in awe of the bird's grace and power, and he compares it to a "chevalier," a knight or nobleman.

However, the poem's tone changes in the second half of the first quatrain when the speaker addresses Christ directly. He calls Christ "my heart in hiding" and "my prince of peace." The speaker sees the windhover as a symbol of Christ, and he praises Christ for his sacrifice on the cross. The bird's flight becomes a metaphor for Christ's ascension into heaven, and the speaker sees Christ's sacrifice as a way to redeem humanity.

In the second quatrain, the speaker continues to describe the windhover's flight, using words like "buckle" and "rebuffed." These words create a sense of tension and struggle, as if the bird is fighting against something. The speaker sees this struggle as a metaphor for Christ's suffering on the cross. He praises Christ for his strength and courage, and he sees Christ's sacrifice as a way to overcome sin and death.

In the third quatrain, the speaker describes the windhover's sudden dive towards the ground, using words like "plunge" and "fall." This sudden movement creates a sense of surprise and awe, as if the bird is performing a miraculous feat. The speaker sees this dive as a metaphor for Christ's resurrection from the dead. He praises Christ for his victory over death and his ability to bring new life to humanity.

In the final couplet, the speaker addresses Christ directly again, calling him "my heart's darling" and "my dear." He praises Christ for his love and his sacrifice, and he sees Christ as the source of all beauty and goodness in the world. The speaker ends the poem with the phrase "I catch thee," which can be interpreted as a prayer or a plea to Christ to reveal himself to the speaker.

Hopkins' use of sprung rhythm in this poem is particularly effective in creating a musical and rhythmic effect that enhances the poem's meaning and emotion. Sprung rhythm is a type of poetry that uses a variable number of stresses per line, creating a sense of natural speech and movement. Hopkins uses this technique to create a sense of movement and energy in the poem, mimicking the windhover's flight. The poem's rhythm is also reflective of the speaker's emotional state, with the rhythm becoming more intense and urgent as the poem progresses.

In conclusion, "The Windhover: To Christ Our Lord" is a beautiful and powerful poem that praises Christ and his sacrifice. Hopkins' use of vivid imagery and sprung rhythm creates a sense of awe and wonder, as if the reader is witnessing the windhover's flight and Christ's sacrifice firsthand. The poem is a testament to Hopkins' skill as a poet and his deep faith in Christ.

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