AD's English Literature : Analysis of Gerard Manley Hopkin's "The Windhover": Sheer Physical Beauty of Majestic Kestrel's Flight in the Early Morning

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Analysis of Gerard Manley Hopkin's "The Windhover": Sheer Physical Beauty of Majestic Kestrel's Flight in the Early Morning

Gerard Manley Hopkin's The Windhover, a poem described by the poet himself as ‘the best thing I ever wrote ', presents the sheer physical beauty of majestic kestrel's flight in the early morning.

The poem begins with ' I ' the pronominal form indicating that what the poet is concerned with is not there natural beauty , but individual vision . The word ' caught ' reinforces this impression, for the poem is an encounter between a human being and a natural object between the internal and the external world. Many people may have seen the hawk and admired it, but it is only the poet who could have seen it and written about it with such intensity. The poet is the only one to see the kestrel as a ' minion ' or ' favourite ' and as the ' king ' and ' dauphin ' -----   the crown prince ------ in addition. The morning itself is a morning itself is a morning of mornings since it endows the poet with a magnificent apprehension of beauty. The triple adjective in ' dapple - dawn - drawn falcon ' suggests not only that the many - hued bird is etched against the sky, but also something more active. Justas the word ' caught ' is more active than ' saw ‘, the adjective drawn suggests that the form of the bird is that and tense , like a wire drawn between two points . The fact that Hopkins is not merely drawing a passive picture is also evident in the forceful simplicity of in his riding - - - -   and striding. The bird is riding as a horseman night, across the rolling level, with steady air beneath him. The bird is at a great height, but the bird controls its flight perfectly. The poet brings in two images to describe its masterful flight. The first relates to horse - training. Just as horses circle around the ring. While the trainer holds one end of the rope, the bird appears to fly with a similarly circular motion. The other image the arc made by the heel of an ice - skate.

Here the poet's apprehension of beauty as well as its expression is extraordinary. It is an individual vision, and the poet has the literary genius to use a uniquely individual idiom. The words are significant and musical thereby catering to both the semantic and the sonic

              Then the poet adds….  “My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!”

Gerard Manley Hopkin
Hitherto, the poet had been content to describe the majestically soaring and perfectly controlled flight of the kestrel. Now almost in counter point, the poet turns from the external to the internal, from the bird to himself. Although the phrase ' Stirred for a bird' may appear to be almost childish in its simplicity especially whom it is seen in contrast to the series of complicated images in the preceding lines, it conveys the actual sensation of the heart moving. The phrase ' My heart in hiding ' has caused considerable consternation. While some have interpreted it as the poet's admission of his own timidity in contrast to the bird's daring , one may found its actual reference in St. Paul's injunction not to fix one's affection on the things of the earth since ' your life is hidden with first in God ' . Hopkins himself noted in an entry in 1881 that Christ had spent a secret, hidden life from the twelfth to the thirtieth year, and that he had sacrificed the very glory of being known as an intensely religious man. Hopkins uses a verb -- ' achieve ' - as a noun to give new life and meaning and ' the mastery of the thing!' is a running up of the windhover's perfection, its absolute mastery of the air and wind.
                            Thus the lines, which are about antithetical to the preceding series of complex and even obscure phrases and images, are also uncharacteristically subjective. It almost parallels the romantic Wordsworth's ' My heart leaps up when I behold / A rainbow - - - -  ' .  Thereby it links the natural with the human, external beauty with internal perception.
Next, the kestrel is described as a ' Brute beauty ' an unusual combination both in sound and sense: “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!”

 The ' Brute beauty ' is not ' brutal ' except in the most literal sense, that it is the beauty of a creature. Here the adjective suggests not the cruelty but the strength of the bird, as in the phrase ' brute force ‘. This interpretation also gains validity from Hopkin's subsequent use of the word ' valour ' derived from French, and suggesting bravery or courage. But the hawk has not merely beauty or valour but also ' act ' -- the beautiful and valiant action of confronting the strong current of air and being able to master it. These three nouns are followed by an expression of admiration -- ' oh ' -- but the wonder continues with ' air, pride, plume, ' three further nouns. Although these may appear to be a series of disparate nouns logically unrelated, they only refer to the hawk's attributes. They refer to the air of which it is master, the pride which it seems to have in its power, and the beauty of the feathers of which its wings are made with masterful suspense the poet holds back the verb for the six nouns, and it arrives with exploring force in the next line . ‘Buckle ' the word ' buckle’ is plurisignificant . The primary meaning is ' join together ' , suggesting that all the qualities of the previous line join together in the hawk . But given the suggestion of chivalry in the poem -- ' valour ', ' hevalier ' ------ this may all imply the buckling on of amour, signer to windhover has to confront the buffeting wind. The third meaning would be ' give way under stress’ as a piece of mental wills under a particular force or weight. It is the image of the natural order, the hawk, buckling beneath a greater, supernatural reality. The word ' AND ' in capitals conveys this dramatic moment of revelation. When natural beauty submits to supernatural beauty, a fire breaks out, or as Hopkins wrote in God's Grandeur, it will ' flame out ‘. The fire is therefore God's glory or grandeur.

It links the natural with the supernatural, the aesthetic with the ascetic. The windhover's beauty may be, as the title suggests, the initial focus, but it is also dedicated ' To Christ our Lord '. Therefore, the kestrel's beauty is significant if and only when it is an expression of the beauty of God's creation. Where had bee held spellbound by the beauty of bluebells. Here the poet and the priest are not in discord but in concord.

If the poet had hitherto been enchanted by the sheer splendour of the windhover's magnificent flight, next he turns his eye to some more homely beauty:
 “No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.” 

The poet feels that the windhover is not the only example of beauty, for there are many beauties in nature; ordinary ploughing of a field makes the earth shine in the furrows and when logs fall in a grate they ' gall ' or split apart and produce a lovely colour, a cross between gold and vermilion - red. The implication is that Christ may have suffered a wound and gashed blood during crucifixion, but it is also the gold which had ransomed mankind. Man must, thought in a less spectacular way, imitated the ways of the supreme disciple. The must ' plod ' on his pedestrian path of daily devotion and thus make the world redolent of God’s glory. Just as the poor peasant in That Nature is a Hereclitean Fire is ' immortal diamond ' the plodding of his plough makes diamonds flash from the silicates of the soul.

  Ardhendu De                  

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