Take a Stanza — The Windhover

When I first read this poem back in college, I loved it so much that I committed it to memory. It’s funny to think I had time to do things like that back then. And I’m glad I did, because I’ve been pulling it out of my brain’s dusty attic from time to time ever since, murmuring it softly to myself while driving alone or jogging or taking a shower.

It’s not the most accessible poem, and I’m sure I needed some explanatory notes and a professor to unpack the thing, but there is something deeply consoling about it, even beyond the level of cognition. I love the crazy rhythmic complexity, which, oddly enough given the antiquated diction, reminds me of rap. Then again, maybe I’m starting to hear hints of rap everywhere after listening to hours and hours of Hamilton being played from my son’s phone. Whatever. This poem is timeless. And the intricate rhyme play all over the poem, not just at the end of the lines, always brings a smile to my face as I imagine Gerard Manley Hopkins, the stodgy, conflicted Jesuit priest, unable to contain his exuberance despite his best efforts. You know what else makes me smile? Knowing that as far back as 1599 another word for windhover was windf***er. Cracks me up.

The Windhover

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dáwn-drawn Falcon in his riding
Of the rólling level úndernéath him steady áir, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstacy! 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 wónder of it: shéer plód makes plóugh down síllion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gáll themsélves, and gásh góld-vermíllion.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins

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