Religious Spirit in The Windhover by
G M Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins is a rewarding and
a demanding poet, one of the three or four greatest poets of the Victorian era.
His style was so radically different from that of his contemporaries. Without
having a detailed knowledge of his life, beliefs and any other background we
can read his poem with much pleasure. Through his love and study of nature, his
doctrinal beliefs and his technical innovations Hopkins becomes a greater and
more rewarding artist. In prose as well as poetry he closely observe and record
nature thereby he developed a language to describe what he perceived- terms
such as ‘inscape’ and ‘instress’. All of Hopkins’ poems have as their immediate
intention to show the particularity of an object at a moment in time and he
coined the word ‘inscape’ to convey this idea.
He developed a poetic language and a new rhythm, named
‘Sprung Rhythm’. It is a meter in which the number of accent in a line is
counted but the number of syllables does not matter, thus allowing the poet to
vary the speed of the lines so as to capture the life of the poem. In addition
to developing new rhythmic effects Hopkins was also very interested in ways of
rejuvenating poetic language. He regularly placed familiar words into new and
His early verse had celebrated natural beauty in a manner
reminiscent of Keats, but when, after conversion of Roman Catholicism, he
decided to become a Jesuit priest, have gave up writing poetry as a worldly
preoccupation. It allows Hopkins to get closer to the rhythms of natural
speech: indeed, one of Hopkins’ earliest champions, the critic F R Leavis,
argued that Hopkins was the only English poet who rivaled Shakespeare for his
poetic imitation of natural speech. His doctrinal believes also influenced his
poetic innovation. It is not only that he became a catholic, a Jesuit and a
priest. He was also deeply devoted to Mary as mother of god and the doctrine of
the Immaculate Conception. He was deeply moved by the idea that the
incarnation, Christ coming as man to share humanity and to suffer, was part of
a grand scheme of salvation, preceding the creation of the world. He was highly
influenced by the Christian believes and this believes influenced his poetic
The concept of nature and self are very significant to
the Victorians. Like his contemporaries, Hopkins too was puzzled by the
Victorian search to understand the idea of self in relation to the new
revelation of nature. However, Hopkins was strengthened by his Christian faith
in his artistic pursuit, unlike his contemporaries. There is metaphysical
revival in the religious poetry of Coventry Patmore, Francis Thompson and Alice
Meynell; some of the catholic contemporaries of Hopkins. But none of these
poets were able to make an impact on their society or influence poetry in
general. It is only Hopkins who is successful in his effort to usher in a new
era of Religious poetry after the 17th century.
For Hopkins’ poetry became praise and worship an
extension of his spiritual search. And his spiritual journey continued to find
expression through the religious poems written throughout his brief span of
life. One of the important concept of his poems is that nature meditates
between self and God. He finds a flow of energy between god, nature and man. Nature
therefore stands between God and man’s self. In Hopkins’ entire poem there is a
triangular system of relationship; the poet reacts to his subject, which leads
him to god. ‘The Windhover’, written in 1887(‘the best thing I ever wrote’), is
one of the best examples of these relationship, and Hopkins took care to
suggest the ‘hidden’ element in the dedication ‘To Christ Our Lord’.
In the poem ‘The Windhover’ Hopkins has beautifully
merged his romantic sensibilities with his religious fervor. This poem follows
the pattern of so many of Hopkins’ sonnets, in that a sensuous experience or
description leads to a set of moral reflection. The poem has drawn the
uppermost attention from Hopkins’ scholars, as it is a focal poem. Some refer to
it as a sensual piece of poetry, while others consider it a personal confession
of regret for having left the world to become a religious and a priest. The
dedication to god has nothing to do with the original meaning of the poem when
it was first written. Though Christ is never mentioned in the poem, Hopkins is
the most Christ possessed Christian poet.
In the octave, Hopkins gives a photographic presentation
of a windhover which he saw in the midst of its hovering. The artist in Hopkins
sees the beauty of the bird at dawn. The poet describes its beauty and striking
qualities. He called it as darling of the morning, the prince of the daylight’s
kingdom, drawn by the dappled colors of dawn. The poet compares it in its
flight to an expert and steady horse rider. In the poet’s imagination, the
windhover sits high and proud. The bird rises spirally in flight on the control
of its wings. The graceful motion of the kestrel is compared to a skilful ice
skater taking a wide curve with ease and grace. The poet secretly watches the
bird and admires its beauty in flight.
The opening of the sestet serves as both a further
elaboration on the bird’s movement and an injunction to the poet’s own heart.
Here Hopkins calls it ‘Brute beauty’, which according to him is basic primal
beauty. In the bird all good attributes, such as brute beauty, air, valor,
pride, act and plume are bound together. Hopkins’ delight in nature leads him
to praise and worship the creator. The word ‘Buckle’ is used in the sense of
tightly fastened as with a belt.
The capitalization of ‘AND’ has no particular
significant, except the rhythm requires a slight lingering on it. In line 11,
the poet makes an ambiguous reference to Christ. The beauty that shines forth
from Christ is a billion times lovelier than the beauty displayed by the bird.
There is nothing surprising in this, as simple plodding produces the beauty of
the plough shining along a freshly turned furrow, and so ordinary a thing as
seemingly dead embers can, if falling to the hearth, leave behind a trail of
gold vermilion sparks.
passion is central to the poem, the core form which everything else spirals and
to which everything returns. The plunge of the bird onto its pray suggests not
simply the fall of man and nature but the descent of a redemptive Christ into
the abyss of human misery and cruelty.
In the first stanza the poet describes different tricks of the bird’s
flight and its beauty. While in the second stanza speaker remembers the beauty
of Christ and says that he is a billion times loveliest. So, claiming that the
nature’s beauty is no wonder, he concludes in the stanza that everything he
looks at reminds him the pain and sufferings of Christ which has made human
life so beautiful and given this opportunity to enjoy it. To this devotee of
Christ, everything brings the image of Christ and his wounds and pain and
sacrifice. This suggests that he always remembers and becomes thankful to
Christ. As the subtitle suggests, the poem is a thanksgiving to Christ.
poem uses his usual “sprung rhythm”, Anglo-Saxon diction, alliteration,
internal rhyming, new compound metaphors, elliptical grammar and complex
threads of connotation. The confusing grammatical structures and sentence order
in this sonnet contribute to its difficulty, but they also represent a
masterful use of language. The sestet has puzzled many readers because it seems
to diverge so widely from the metrical introduce in the octave.
Easson, Angus. Gerard Manley Hopkins. New York:
Routledge, 2011. Print
sbd, A J. The Poetry of G.M. Hopkins- An
Ecological Study. New Delhi: Adhyayan Publishers & Distributers, 2009.
Thomas. “G.M. Hopkins: ‘The Windhover’ ;
Sources, ‘underthought’ , and significance.” The Modern Language Review,
Vol. 70, no.3, 1975, pp.497-507. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.Jstor.or/stable/3725517
PATRICIA. “Hopkins: ‘The Windhover: To Christ Our Lord'”. Critical Survey,
Vol.6, no.1/2, 1973,pp. 81-85,. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41553916.