“He is likely to prove for our time and the future, the only influential poet of the Victorian age, and he seems to me the greatest,” says Dr.F.R.Leavis of Gerald Manley Hpokins. A Hopkins poem synonymous with intellectual energy and religious imperturbability has created a unique niche for itself in English Literature. Hopkins’ “Windhover” echoes the discord in his persona of the impulsive aesthetician he naturally was and the ascetic Jesuit he opted to become.
Hopkins himself regarded “The Windhover” as the “best thing I ever wrote.” The theme of the poem is the praise of God for the multifariousness of his creation. It also exemplifies the assertion of the Christian conviction and is an exultant affirmation of the poet’s personal faith. The poet depicts this by illustrating the majesty and splendour of a falcon in the course of its flight. The windhover, one of the most perfectly developed birds in strength, compactness and symmetry is addressed to as “morning’s minion” and the reigning prince of the kingdom of daylight. The Ultimate Artist has the spotted silhouette etched against the loveliness of the dawn. The movement of the falcon is likened to a rider pulling on a horses reign, and to the heel of a skate making a smooth sweep around a bow-shaped curve. The poet is in complete awe as it hurtles past with tremendous bursts of velocity.
In the former part of the poem,it is the bird that had incited admiration and filled the poet’s mind:
“the achieve of the mastery of the thing!” Hopkins elaborates the theme to relate the experience to his own situation and struggles. He identifies it with his ambition and aspirations. In a mere creation of God, he perceives the vision of the Christian endeavour. He has caught the essence of its spirit, struggle and the achievement in place of all difficulties, the courage and pride in singleness of purpose that allows its possessor to triumph equally in open conflict or in willing submission.” Similar is the case of the Christian Knight and the lord Jesus Christ who unquestioningly succumbed to the misery and mortification of crucifixion. In inciting the poet’s aspirations, it has inadvertently rendered itself into the divine instrument of God.
“Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion.”
In the poem, the poet alludes to the attributes of the bird that has been instrumental in his enlightment. The verb ‘buckle’ may signify the unconditional submission of the poet to the abstemious dictates of priesthood. The word ‘buckle’ possesses two meanings here .It may imply ‘fall under weight’ or ‘be ready for something’. With such a view, the ecstasy, initiative and royal flight of the bird pales in comparison as ‘brute beauty’, ‘valour’, ‘act’, ‘pride’ and ‘plume’ are relegated before the spiritual undertaking. The poet unconditionally forgoes these and follows the ascetic pursuit that gives the impression of a plodding action.
Hopkins states that if the endeavour of the falcon is relived in his soul, then as a result of the same, a fire, a glory will break out in the poet too. The majesty, divine energy and valour will multiply exponentially when apprehended as God’s outward grace, and as a visible sign of the Ultimate Artist’s creative force. ‘Chevalier’ echoes the chivalric terms ‘dauphin’ and ‘minion’ and the dauphin is second to the monarch himself. The falcon, therefore, indubitably stands for Christ who is only second to God.
The poem also emphasizes the Christian aspect of hardwork that is aptly portayed in a ‘plodding’ action. It is the labourious effort or ‘sheer plod’ in driving the plough-share through the sillion that renders it shny and bright. The close of the poem suggests the conflict between the lofty priciples of Christianity and earthly practicality .However, the vision of Christ suffering at crucifixion foregrounds itself at the end.the ‘blue-bleak’ embers speak of pushing and effort whil ‘fall’,’gall’ and ‘gash’ mirrors the intense and heart-rending agony of the Saviour.
Therefore the poem is an affirmation of the Christian purpose and an euphoric avowal of the poet’s personal faith. Nature is to Hopkins what sacraments are to Christians: “an outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual grace.”