The prose translation of Hopkins's "Windhover" in the right column translates the poem into simpler, if vastly less interesting or effective, language, but it should help you follow the argument of this carefully ordered poem. In some cases the ambiguous phrases have been simplified, and you might wish to follow links to explore other possible readings. The numbers in parentheses in the right column correspond to the poem's line numbers.

To Christ our Lord

(Note that this dedication to Christ addresses Him directly
and makes Him part of the poem)

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 ecstacy! then off, off forth on swing.
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on bow-bend: the hurl and the 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 wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.



written: 1877
published: 1918



* * * * *

Why was the speaker's heart "hiding" and from whom?

At what point does the reader realize that the falcon's gliding and plunge to the earth tells the speaker something important about the beauty of Christ?

How does such a meditation on a natural phenomenon resemble — and differ — from those of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley?

(1) This morning I caught [sight of] the minion or servant of the morning, [who is] the dauphin, or crown-prince, (2) of the Kingdom of Daylight — — a falcon spotted or dappled by the dawn as he was riding (3) the steady air over the rolling hills or land and as he was striding high up in the sky. How in his ectasy he halted with his wings as if he were pulling back on a horse's reins, (4) Then, he would launch himself again [as a child] on a swing. bird's hurling itself against the wind and then gliding with it, (5) rebuffed and conquered that powerful natural force (6) [In the same way that] a skater's heel smoothly sweeps around a curve [when skating figures], the force. My heart, which had been in hiding (from WHAT?), (7) stirred itself — became excited for the bird's achievement and power, for its mastery of natural forces. force.

(9) Then, at this point, all the bird's brute, animal beauty, courage, and — oh! — his proud air and feathers (10) buckle or crumple! And the fire (the bright red of the bird's chest feathers as well as higher beauty) (11) is a billion times lovely and more dangerous [than the earlier mastery of natural forces that the hawk had show in his gliding], oh my chevalier (knight).

(12) The fact that [the beauty of falling, danger, and descent is greater than the beauty of power] should not surprise us, because nature abounds with other instances of this higher principle: simple plodding work of the ploughman makes the plough shine from its polishing against the cut earth, and it also makes the sillion, the soil cut by the plough shine; [similarly] (13) bleak-looking embers [in a stove or fireplace], ah my dear [Christ], (14) Fall, hurt themselves, break apart, revealing the beauty of red and gold.


Last modified 1988