[John Harrington sent in the following:] I'd like to offer another interpretation: To "ring" in falconry means to ascend spirally. So, the image here is of the falcon [ringing] on the rein of a [single] wimpling (rippling) wing.

The image is of a horse being exercised, as horses often are, in a circle around a corral. The horseman stands in the center of the corral, whip in one hand, rein in the other as the horse trots around him. Alternatively, "rein" could be interpreted in a generic sense and not necessarily refer to horses at all, I suppose.

The falcon rises in the sky in a spiral and then breaks off, using the momentum of his spiral (off, off forth on swing), in a long arc.

[Some years later, Peter Horsburgh added:] I saw your comment on the word "rung" in Hopkins's poem. You are clearly correct. I have never dreamt otherwise (as a falconer).

"Ring" is quite clearly the allusion to the term used in falconry, as you point out. In order to gain height by going around in tight circles; but the image is combined with the action of a horse when being lunged on a Lunging rein , but not of course in a corral (which we don't have, and GMH would not recognise) but in a lunging ring — again the allusion to ring and to the circular motion described the horse and confined, in circumference, by the size of the lunging ring. We know that GMH would have been familiar with horses being backed in this way too.

The action of a kestrel is precisely as described: they do indeed "ring" (had he used the conventional past participle "ringed" it would not have scanned — hence "rung") upwards and, then, at the top of their "ring" and almost "on the spot" they rotate about the point described by the end of one wing as if this point were fixed (this I think is to get the precisely correct angle of sight having arrived at the right height). A lot is going on here! GMH captures the whole "thing" ( and again! — as in "trick" here) quite wonderfully and with such economy.

Then, you say: "The falcon rises in the sky in a spiral and then breaks off, using the momentum of his spiral (off, off forth on swing) in a long arc": yes, but . . . I have such a clear mental image of what the bird does then, but I struggle to better put it into words. It is not the momentum quite, but the bird, from its hover, which it has by then achieved, tilts its wings thus catching the (big) wind and, like a surf-boarder, straining against the wind, but using its power, describes an arc, in the shape of a (long) bow - I'm sure that's the allusion here too, and we can suppose that GMH was familiar with the shape of a long bow.

Buckle: I'm inclined to think GMH means her the word buckle to mean: "come together" or "cobble together" (sounds like?) as one buckles something (possibly armour indeed) "on". The "oh" can be simply explained by, with a toss of GMH's head, as he gropes for more ethereal factors here "air, pride, plume" (a bird's head was of course a frequent Roman helmet topping) which are thus combined — buckled together — try reading it that way and it makes sense, I think. And then of course, the fire "breaking" from this coming together is easily explicable: the blacksmith.


Victorian Web G. M. Hopkins

Last modified: 11 February 2004