Gerard Manley Hopkins is a rewarding and demanding poet, one of the three or four greatest poets of the Victorian era. His style was so radically different from that of his contemporaries. Without having a detailed knowledge of his life, beliefs and any other background we can read his poem with much pleasure. Through his love and study of nature, his doctrinal beliefs and his technical innovations Hopkins becomes a greater and more rewarding artist. In prose as well as poetry he closely observes and records nature thereby he developed a language to describe what he perceived- terms such as ‘inscape’ and ‘instress’.
All of Hopkins’ poems have as their immediate intention to show the particularity of an object at a moment in time and he coined the word ‘inscape’ to convey this idea. He developed a poetic language and a new rhythm, named‘Sprung Rhythm’. It is a meter in which the number of accent in a line discounted but the number of syllables does not matter, thus allowing the poet to vary the speed of the lines so as to capture the life of the poem. In addition to developing new rhythmic effects, Hopkins was also very interested in ways of rejuvenating poetic language. He regularly placed familiar words into new and surprising context. His early verse had celebrated natural beauty in a manner reminiscent of Keats, but when, after conversion of Roman Catholicism, he decided to become a Jesuit priest, have given up writing poetry as a worldly preoccupation. It allows Hopkins to get closer to the rhythms of natural speech: indeed, one of Hopkins’ earliest champions, the critic F R Leavis, argued that Hopkins was the only English poet who rivaled Shakespeare for his poetic imitation of natural speech. His doctrinal beliefs also influenced his poetic innovation. It is not only that he became a Catholic, a Jesuit and a priest. He was also deeply devoted to Mary as the mother of God and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. He was deeply moved by the idea that the incarnation, Christ coming as a man to share humanity and to suffer, was part of a grand scheme of salvation, preceding the creation of the world. He was highly influenced by the Christian believes and this belief influenced his poetic innovation. The concept of nature and self-care very significant to the Victorians.
Like his contemporaries, Hopkins too was puzzled by the theVictorian search to understand the idea of self in relation to the new revelation of nature. However, Hopkins was strengthened by his Christian faith in his artistic pursuit, unlike his contemporaries. There is a metaphysical revival in the religious poetry of Coventry Patmore, Francis Thompson, and Alice Meynell; some of the Catholic contemporaries of Hopkins. But none of these poets were able to make an impact on their society or influence poetry in general. It is only Hopkins who is successful in his effort to usher in a new era of Religious poetry after the 17th century. For Hopkins’ poetry became praise and worship an extension of his spiritual search. And his spiritual journey continued to find expression through the religious poems written throughout his brief span of life. One of the important concepts of his poems is that nature meditates between self and God. He finds a flow of energy between god, nature, and man. Nature, therefore, stands between God and man’s self. In Hopkins’ entire poem there is a triangular system of relationship; the poet reacts to his subject, which leads him to god. ‘The Windhover’, written in 1887(the best thing I ever wrote’), is one of the best examples of this relationship, and Hopkins took care to suggest the ‘hidden’ element in the dedication ‘To Christ Our Lord’. In the poem, ‘The Windhover’ Hopkins has beautifully merged his romantic sensibilities with his religious fervor. This poem follows the pattern of so many of Hopkins’ sonnets, in that a sensuous experience description leads to a set of moral reflection. The poem has drawn the uppermost attention from Hopkins’ scholars, as it is a focal poem. Some refer to it as a sensual piece of poetry, while others consider it a personal confession of regret having left the world to become a religious and a priest.
The dedication to god has nothing to do with the original meaning of the poem when it was first written. Though Christ is never mentioned in the poem, Hopkins is the most Christ possessed Christian poet. In the octave, Hopkins gives a photographic presentation of a windhover which he saw in the midst of its hovering. The artist in Hopkins sees the beauty of the bird at dawn. The poet describes its beauty and striking qualities. He called it as the darling of the morning, the prince of the daylight’s kingdom, drawn by the dappled colors of dawn. The poet compares it in its flight to an expert and steady horse rider. In the poet’s imagination, the windhover sits high and proud. The bird rises spirally in flight on the control of its wings. The graceful motion of the kestrel is compared to a skillful ice skater taking a wide curve with ease and grace.
The poet secretly watches the bird and admires its beauty in flight. The opening of the sestet serves as both a further elaboration on the bird’s movement and an injunction to the poet’s own heart. Here Hopkins calls it ‘Brute beauty’, which according to him is a basic primal beauty. In the bird, all good attributes, such as brute beauty, air, valor, pride, act, and plume are bound together. Hopkins’ delight in nature leads him to praise and worship the creator. The word ‘Buckle’ is used in the sense of tightly fastened as with a belt. The capitalization of ‘AND’ has no particular significance, except the rhythm requires a slight lingering on it. In line 11, the poet makes an ambiguous reference to Christ. The beauty that shines forth from Christ is a billion times lovelier than the beauty displayed by the bird. There is nothing surprising in this, as simple plodding produces the beauty of the plow shining along a freshly turned furrow, and so ordinary a thing seemingly dead embers can, if falling to the hearth, leave behind a trail of gold vermilion sparks. Christ’spassion is central to the poem, the core from which everything else spirals and to which everything returns.
The plunge of the bird onto its pray suggests not simply the fall of man and nature but the descent of a redemptive Christ into the abyss of human misery and cruelty. In the first stanza, the poet describes different tricks of the bird’s flight and its beauty. While in the second stanza speaker remembers the beauty of Christ and says that he is a billion times loveliest. So, claiming that nature’s beauty is no wonder, he concludes in the stanza that everything he looks at reminds him the pain and sufferings of Christ which has made human life so beautiful and given this opportunity to enjoy it. To this devotee ofChrist, everything brings the image of Christ and his wounds and pain and sacrifice. This suggests that he always remembers and becomes thankful toChrist. As the subtitle suggests, the poem is a thanksgiving to Christ.
The poem uses his usual “sprung rhythm”, Anglo-Saxon diction, alliteration, internal rhyming, new compound metaphors, elliptical grammar and complex threads of connotation. The confusing grammatical structures and sentence ordering this sonnet contribute to its difficulty, but they also represent the masterful use of language. The sestet has puzzled many readers because it seems to diverge so widely from the metrical introduce in the octave.