Please help me to understand the first four lines of "The Windhover" by Gerard Manley Hopkins according to his sprung rhythm theory.

In the first four lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins's "The Windhover" and elsewhere in the poem, Hopkins uses sprung rhythm to represent the flight of the bird. Sprung rhythm involves alliteration, irregular stress, and the sounds of ordinary speech to create a bouncy, lilting effect that is particularly appropriate to the image of a bird in flight.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

If we apply sprung rhythm to the first four lines of the poem, we can see how it works in giving us a very distinct impression of the windhover—or kestrel—in flight. Let us begin at the beginning with the first line:

I caught this morning morning's m inion,...

Get
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

If we apply sprung rhythm to the first four lines of the poem, we can see how it works in giving us a very distinct impression of the windhover—or kestrel—in flight. Let us begin at the beginning with the first line:

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-

Hopkins' use of alliteration has been highlighted in bold to give you an idea of how it is used to create irregular stress. This, in turn, gives the first line a bouncy rhythm that perfectly captures the up and down motion of the kestrel as it hovers high in the air.

If you've ever seen a kestrel you'll know that it hovers in the air while eyeing up its prey before suddenly swooping down to attack. Hopkins' use of sprung rhythm effectively conveys the bird's undulating movement as it hangs in the sky.

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

There's more alliteration in the second line, this time revolving around the letter d. Here, the emphasis is not so much on the bird's movement as its appearance. The speaker regards the windhover as a majestic bird. Hence this description of him as "daylight's dauphin." The Dauphin was the name given to the King of France's eldest son, so there's clearly something very special, almost princely, about the windhover's appearance as it "rides" in the air in the morning.

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

Alliteration is less in evidence in the third line, but it has much the same effect, facilitating the use of sprung rhythm to convey a certain image. In this case it's the image of the rolling ground beneath the hovering kestrel that's being conveyed, giving us a picture of the landscape against which the windhover's majestic appearance is being observed.

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

All the elements of sprung rhythm are here: alliteration, irregular stress, and the sounds of ordinary speech. They are used to convey the speaker's sense of wonder at how this remarkable bird beats back a strong gust of wind to show his prowess in flight. Had Hopkins used regular meter in this line, it's doubtful if he could've achieved quite the same effect. But sprung rhythm allows him to express his profound sense of wonder at one of God's creatures.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team