(McPherson, M. American Kestrel)

8. The Windhover: Gerard Manley Hopkins 1877

Section
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
Chapter
1.9 Poems
Page
1.9.8

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.

 

Every response in section 1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship, has revealed the tension between the world that is and the world that we want it to be: between the truth and what we want the truth to be. To some extent we can make the world in our own image, but also, in many fundamental ways, we can’t. The poet Hayden Carruth addressed it directly (1.9.2) when he said: “My poems exist, I think, in a state of tension between love of natural beauty and a fear of natural nothingness and absurdity”.

Ted Hughes’ ‘Hawk Roosting’, and to an extent, Blake’s ‘Tyger’, see what to them is a very difficult and confronting truth about Nature: it is not of them and does not acknowledge them and is, perhaps, godless. There is transcendence in this recognition of the other, but empty alienation on one’s arrival.

Hopkins sees the germ of this ‘truth’ in his awe at the magnificence of the falcon: “the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!”, and uses regal language throughout (“kingdom”, “dauphin”, “chevalier”) to indicate the status of its perfection. But this is where he parts ways with Hughes and others, where he exults in its majesty, rather than feeling fearful and alone. He feels “beauty” and “pride” at its mercurial, aerial ability, and his heart is “Stirred for a bird…In his ectasy”.

He is at one with Nature and in a sort of rapture to be in the presence of God. His Nature is one of sun and “gash-gold vermillion” and he is in the morning of his and all life. Is Hopkins’ ‘truth’ less than Blake’s or Hughes’ or Carruth’s? Is his ecstatic vision mere projection?

Explore More Poems

1.9.1. Snake

A snake came to my water-trough On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat, To drink there. In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree I came down the steps with my pitcher And must wait, must stand and wait, for ...

1.9.2. Essay

Carruth, like Lawrence’s ‘Snake’, says: “My poems, I think, exist in a state of tension between the love of natural beauty and the fear of natural nothingness or absurdity”1, but there is almost none of this tension in his poem, ‘Essay’...

1.9.3. Endymion

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. Therefore, on every morrow, are w...

1.9.4. The Smoker Parrots

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1.9.5. Pied Beauty

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1.9.6. Hawk Roosting

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed. Inaction, no falsifying dream Between my hooked head and hooked feet: Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat. The convenience of the high trees! The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray Are of ...

1.9.7. The Tyger

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1.9.8. 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 wimpl...

1.9.9. The Eagle

He clasps the crag with crooked hands; Close to the sun in lonely lands, Ring'd with the azure world, he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; He watches from his mountain walls, And like a thunderbolt he falls.   ‘The Eag...

1.9.10. The Death of the Bird

For every bird there is this last migration; Once more the cooling year kindles her heart; With a warm passage to the summer station Love pricks the course in lights across the chart. Year after year a speck on the map, divided By a whole h...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
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