Analysis of 'The Windhover' poem by Gerard Hopkins

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Please write a 1,500 word essay commenting closely on one of the following two texts. Your Answer should pay detailed attention to the text’s form, content and style.

Text 1a: The Windhover

"The Windhover" by Gerard Hopkins stands as one of his most influential poems to date. Though Hopkins wrote the poem around the year 1877, it was published in 1918 after his death. Before analysing this poem, it is important to understand the social and cultural backdrop of the time in which it was written, and in particular the poet's reasons for writing it. Hopkins himself stated that the poem “was not based on real incident, yet it seems apparent that his “Roman Catholic identity in the Anglican culture that he chose to reject” undeniably had a detrimental impact to him, both as an individual, and a writer of the Victorian era. So much so, that family and friends disregarded him while even university posts and positions in the clergy were closed to him.”  As a celibate priest torn between the incompatibility between his literary and religious duties, it is no surprise as to why religion resonates so heavily in Hopkins' poem. It is evident from works of the epoch by poets such as Rossetti and Aguilar that Victorian society was clerical. The critic Bristow J. (2000) holds that indeed there was an "intrinsic connection between poetic and religious concerns," and this goes to show the importance of the Christian belief in this period.

The dictionary definition for ‘Windhover’ is quite simply a “British dialect name for a Kestrel” (Collins Dictionary, 2015) It is a bird renowned for its aerial presence and predatory instincts. As such, it ought to be expected that the speaker is paying homage to this bird, yet this sonnet’s hyperbolic overtones throughout insinuate a deeper seated attachment to it:

“I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon”.

This is the opening line of the stanza and immediately we as readers are fed an amalgamation of superlatives describing the Windhover. The speaker appears to have a fondness for the Windhover as his compounded alliteration of “dapple-dawn-drawn” creates a triple emphasis in regards to the Windhover’s prominence. Along with this triple emphasis comes the possibility of a triple ambiguity, with Hopkins creating three very different meanings; the ‘dappled dawn’ possibly tempting the falcon, the falcon being ‘drawn’ so the speaker is in awe of it, or that the ‘dappled falcon’ is in itself attracted by the prospect of dawn - Hopkins has deliberately left this as a circumlocution for the reader to interpret on their own accord. Hopkins advocated that everything in the world consisted of distinctive features, known as the ‘inscape’. The inscape was bound together in a spiritually cohesive way, something which he called the ‘instress’.  This, with Hopkins’ sprung rhythm and stressing of syllables replicates the natural rhythm of spoken word.  

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As Cousins, A.D. (2011) argues, Hopkins’ sonnets adopt a “political or devotional form thought of most distinctively as the medium through which he conveyed his remarkable engagement with the natural world”, and this sentiment proves emblematic in the poem. The standalone introductory epigraph, “To Christ our Lord” affiliates Jesus to the poem, and hence it is important to note that Jesus should be in the undertones of any interpretation. The speaker watches in admiration as he states “Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird. The achieve of, the mastery of the thing!” - Hopkins’ ...

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