The Windhover Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“The Windhover” is a poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It starkly brings out the glory of God through the falcon or windhover. 

About the Poet:

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was an eminent English poet. He was also a Jesuit priest. Famous works of his include ‘God’s Grandeur’, ‘The Wreck of Deutschland’, and ‘The Windhover’. 


This poem is a sonnet consisting of 14 lines. It has an interesting form that resembles a Petrarchan sonnet with the first 8 lines being a clear octave and the sestet being divided into two stanzas having three lines each. 

Analysis and Summary:

Stanza 1:

To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-

dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! 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!


The poem begins with the poet’s persona catching a Falcon that morning. He describes it

vividly, being in awe of his majestic demeanour and his “ecstasy” so much so that he himself couldn’t help being enthralled. 


The poem begins with the epithet “To Christ our Lord”, belying the overall theme of the poem. This stanza makes use of extensive visual imagery and literary devices to bring to life the moment of awe the poet felt upon witnessing the falcon soaring across the sky. He calls it– personified as “him”– “morning’s minion”, and “kingdom of daylight’s dauphin” or prince. Further,  the poet also employs extensive kinetic imagery to capture the magnificent movements of the bird and to whereby bring out the sheer joy of “riding” in the air like a knight. To bring out the movement of the bird’s wings’, the poet uses highly vivid descriptions once again, such as “how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing/ In his ecstasy!” and how the bird was “smooth on a bow-bend”, and his “hurl and gliding”.  It is clear that the poet views the falcon not just as a simple bird but as being akin to light itself and puts him on a pedestal, adding a sort of royal grandeur to his aura where he admires the bird’s control, grace, and might. His sheer amazement of the “mastery of the thing” adds to the reverence he explicitly expresses for the bird. 

Stanza 2:

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!


In this stanza, the poet continues his descriptions but goes on to state that it pales in comparison to the might and grandeur of God, his “chevalier”. 


The tone takes a shift in this stanza, as is expected in a sestet. It seemingly appears to be an extension of the poet’s sentiments in the first line– “Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here”. However, the poet orders the bird to “Buckle!” or bend down. His strong tone is punctuated by the capitalisation of the word “AND”. In this short stanza, the poet asserts that for all the fiery passion of the bird, the God Almighty’s or the poet’s “chevalier” (champion) is all the more “lovelier” and “more dangerous”. This is a cleverly written stanza as the poet does not directly bring out the glory of God– he instead puts God above the very bird he had extensively admired and almost deified thus far. 

Stanza 3:     

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.


Here, the poet reverts his previous sentiments by stating that there was “no wonder” to the bird. For soil glittered when ploughed and heated coal did give out golden embers. 


This is an excellent conclusion to the poem. After his high praises of the bird, the poet praised God to be even higher. Here, he seemingly changes his perspective completely by calling the bird ordinary. However, what the poet is trying to bring out is that the simple things we find around us– the beauty of nature itself through birds, soil, and rocks– are only beautiful and extraordinary because of the presence of God. 


This is a lovely poem that brings out the presence of God. It sheds light on how it is through God and His glory that Earthly beings attain beauty and grace.