Themes and Meanings

Hopkins was extremely sensitive to natural beauty. In addition to his innate sensitivity, however, he also had theories on the place of natural beauty in God’s world. He thought that all individually beautiful things had within them a principle of growth by which they developed, which he called “instress,” a curve of stress that entered matter and transformed it into an individual creation. Therefore, the fire that “breaks” from the windhover is not actual flame but the impression made on the viewer when the instress that made the bird what it was suddenly flashes into the viewer’s mind. Since the instress is a formative stress, it then begins to shape the mind of the poet as it had shaped the bird. The instress then travels down the arm of the poet and enters the language of the poem, whence it flashes to the mind of the reader. The traveling of the instress is like the path of an electric current, from object to viewer to language to reader.

The instresses that form the physical universe are not, however, merely natural forces. For Hopkins, each of them represents the activity of Christ in the world, since Christ is the principle of the Incarnation, the entry of God into matter. So each time the instress of an object or a creature blazes into Hopkins’s head, he is also seeing the proof of the presence of God in the world.

Christian Themes

“The Windhover” exemplifies much that is both spiritual and explicitly Christian in Hopkins’s work: that all reality is interconnected; that God, humanity, and the universe are inseparable; that each person and each object in the world is unique and glorifies God in its uniqueness; and that the revelation of individual uniqueness is found in the energy that each person or object emits.

The bird was one of Hopkins’s favorite images. In “The Windhover,” the hawk gives glory to God by being fully itself, but in the poem the image also suggests Christ as well as one who would use Christ as a model for life, probably the narrator of the poem. The bird is a Christlike image of self-sacrifice and in being true to itself is shown as part of the great unity of the cosmos. Everything is connected with everything, and the incorporating energy for this is signified in the concept of inscape, which reconciles the individuated creature with the rest of the universe.

The poet experimented in how exactly to present his thoughts and moods, frequently having to invent words (“wimpling,” “achieve” as a noun), unique verbal combinations (“gash gold-vermilion”), and hyphenations (“dapple-dawn-drawn”) and to revive words long out of use (sillion). Influenced by both Welsh and medieval verse traditions, Hopkins was determined to render meaning and feeling through his highly personalized view of poetic language.

The music of his poems was developed through use of alliteration, internal rhyme, and...

(The entire section is 627 words.)