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The Windhover

The Windhover

As Denny Bradbury can often be found to do in her new collection of poetry, “De-versify”, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “The Windhover” is a love poem that is not directed at a particular person but at life itself. A Jesuit priest who died at the young age of 44, he was torn between his literary and religious callings throughout his life, swinging between joy and despair both in his poetry and about the poems he wrote.

Written at the end of May in 1877, Hopkins’ sonnet “The Windhover” starts with such enthusiasm and emotion that it immediately shows itself to be a love poem, just as Denny Bradbury does in her poem “Gossamer Green” where she describes the infinite, intricate beauty of nature that dies and begins again with a creature as small as a spider:

“Gossamer tablecloth covering green
Tiny creatures never to be seen
Gossamer threads weaving over all
Holding early dew in autumn’s thrall

Who ordered beauty like this to be?
Who claims the ultimate mystery?…

….Gossamer napkins scattered and left
Summer no longer leaving bereft
All those who revel in warmth of the sun
Dying for living the cycle is spun.”

Hopkins felt that “The Windhover” was the best thing he ever wrote. It starts off slowly for the first four and a half lines, with a rich repetition of sound:

“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!..”

He uses alliteration and repetition to highlight the stirring this creature makes him feel in his heart, whilst at the same time describing how the bird relishes in both the freedom and the restriction within the air.

Denny Bradbury, in her poem “Lost Meadows” uses alliteration to describe the beauty of the lost meadows:

“Light flooded meadows brimming with sweet honeyed flowers
bedappled with dew
Butterflies, bumblebees, damosels too drunkenly stagger
in nectar filled hue
How is this image today now expressed as fields drunk with pesticides
only are dressed….”

Hopkins’ language turns from describing the kestrel’s flight in the first part of the sonnet to describing how that same mixture of fighting against the wind  brings about a new and exhilarating experience can be found within other areas of nature, and  ultimately within his own soul:

“…………………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: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.”

Hopkins’ sweeps his readers up in his rhythms and then dashes them down again in the strident sounds of his final line.