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.
- In terms of “story,” this is basically a poem about a guy being blown away by watching a bird — a small falcon called a kestrel — ride the wind. How does Hopkin’s use of language capture the fact that the speaker has experienced a moment of transcendence?
- What are your favourite lines or clusters of words? Why?
- Try replacing any of the words in these lines with another word that means the same thing? How does it change the feel of the line?
- What is the mood of the speaker?
- If you were going to recite this poem, how would you balance the pleasure of the poem’s musical qualities with the need to communicate its meaning?
- Write a poem about a moment when you felt lifted up and transformed by watching an animal in nature. For an extra challenge, experiment with some of the poetic devices that Hopkins uses so beautifully in The Windhover, like alliteration (the repeated first letter in “morning morning’s minion” and “daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn”), assonance (the echoing vowel sounds in “dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn falcon”), rhyme (internal rhyme within a line like “Stirred for a bird” or the aba and bab end-rhyme patterns of the last two stanzas (here / billion / chevalier / sillion / dear / gold-vermillion). Often Hopkins layers these effects so a few words are doing many things at once. See what kinds of sounds you can create.
Read the American poet Ange Mlinko on what she loves about The Windhover:
Kestrel hovering in flight: