The Windhover

To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
    dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of 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 gliding
    Rebuffed 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, here
    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)

Writing Ideas

1. Look to the skies yourself and deeply observe the birds you see, paying careful attention to how they alight, where they land, and the patterns they make in the air. Consider how watching them makes you feel, and what their flight might suggest about your own beliefs, spiritual or otherwise.

2. Write a poem meditating on something you’ve seen or experienced that brought you a sense of joy or excitement. Try to capture and convey that feeling through your choice of words and their connection to one another. Try to use sound patterning effects like alliteration, assonance, and repetition.

Discussion Questions

1. Hopkins uses a type of rhythm in his poems called sprung rhythm. Read the poem out loud. Is it easy to read, or difficult? Why? What effect does the heavy repetition of sounds have in your reading of the poem?

2. How do the different kinds of aural effects (repetition, alliteration, and consonance) alter its sound? What effect do these effects have on your understanding of the poem?

3. Hopkins’s poem is one of ecstasy. In what ways—especially through language, punctuation, and diction—does Hopkins suggest that joyous feeling?

4. Think about Hopkins’s dedication at the beginning of the poem. Is the bird’s “brute beauty and valour” in the face of the wind a metaphor for something larger?

Teaching Tips

1. While listening to the audio recording of the poem, have your students make notes, jot down questions, and circle every unfamiliar word in the poem. After an initial discussion of the poem’s meaning, have small groups research the terms and share their findings with the class by creating a hyperlinked or annotated text (or, they can look at the annotated version of the poem below). Then have students explore the sounds of the poem by reading the entire poem aloud several times, then only the vowel sounds, then only the consonant sounds. Have them add a color-coded sound map to their hyperlinked text, highlighting the repetition of vowel and consonant sounds (assonance and consonance) by assigning a particular color for each new pattern.

2. After working closely with the technical elements of the poem, ask students to write a paragraph explaining how the poet’s celebration of the windhover, a small falcon that hovers in the air while searching for prey, mimics the perfection of nature in this artistically masterful poem of praise. On an overhead projector, share model paragraphs, pointing out astute readings, facility with the language of literature, strong argumentation, and so on. Afterward, share part or all of Ange Mlinko’s essay as a model of such critical writing.

3. Have students compare “The Windhover” to Robert Frost’s “The Oven Bird.” Ask students to pay particular attention to structural elements such as rhythm and rhyme as they explore ways in which the poets have shaped the verbal experience of the poem to reflect the emotional experience they explore. How does the use of sprung rhythm in “The Windhover,” for example, help to convey speaker’s sense of awe? How does the staccato rhythm of “The Oven Bird” reflect the speaker’s more rational exploration of nature’s transience?

More Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins