Derek's Reviews > The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins by Gerard Manley Hopkins
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Apr 04, 11


Analysis of “Windhover”

On the surface, Hopkins’ “Windhover” is a poem is about a bird hovering in the air, a falcon suspended, a dangerous bird of prey to be reckoned with. With careful and sensitive language, Hopkins attempts to convey the inexpressible awe he feels in witnessing the “windhover.” He approaches the line where language is insufficient and only inarticulate sounds will do. The poem contains four exlamation marks, the words “oh” and “ah,” and even one incomplete phrase: “the achieve of, the master of the thing.” The achieve of? It’s a stop, a start. A breath. Words do not do the moment justice, and here Hopkins sacrifices his mastery of the metaphor to more fully convey the beauty of the moment.

The poem is a Petrarchan sonnet. The octet proposes the problem, the sestet solves it; somewhere in between lies a moment poets call “the turn.” In this poem, the turn happens when the Windhover dives down to a farmer working a plow, when the imagery moves from bird to human to ground, and then returns back to the sky.

When the bird is hovering, Hopkins compares it to a “king” on a horse (white or otherwise). The falcon is “riding” on “steady air, and striding / High there, how he rung upon the rein.” The bird rides the air the way a dauphin rides a steed. Behind the falcon, Hopkins sees stately aristocracy.
This does not mean the ground is devoid of value. Right in front of the farmer on the ground, there is gold. In his daily work and toil behind the horse and plow, there is gold. Behind the falcon may be a King, but under the horse’s hoof’s are all kinds of treasures: first “fire,” and then “blue-bleak embers,” and then “gash gold vermilion.” To plow the ground is to cut through the light; the “sheer plod” of plowing behind a horse reveals in the earth not just dark soil but gold.

The sky holds a horse, the dirt holds a sunset. In a way, it’s like two mirrors face each other, reflecting and magnifying God’s grace. We – the people somewhere in between, in the middle – are blessedly caught. In the refracted light, we can look back and forth from ground to sky, sky to ground.
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