Synopsis of The Windhover

Poetic tension

The Windhover is rightly seen as one of Hopkins' best poems, often appearing in anthologies as representative of his work. It is a complex poem and needs some careful analysis to get to its fullness, though even a first reading suggests a powerful poem, through its dramatic images and strong rhythms.

It represents the fullest statement so far in Hopkins' verse of his inner conflict between:

  • the world of created beauty and his love of it
  • the demands of a disciplined religious life, to which he feels called by the Creator.

As in The Starlight Night, he seeks a resolution. Whether he finds it, or whether there remains a still unresolved tension at the end will be one of the questions we need to face.


The poem can be precisely dated to 30th May, 1877, when Hopkins had been a student at St. Beuno's, North Wales, for approaching three years. It is one of many sonnets written that year, and probably the most accomplished of that whole period. Its title, The Windhover is explained in l.2 as being a ‘Falcon', a bird of prey that literally hovers in the wind to spy its quarry. We shall try to define in what way Hopkins sees the bird, and what it comes to mean to him.

Kestrel, photo by Andreas Trepte available through Creative CommonsMore on birds and poetry: In modern ornithology, the windhover would be classified as a kestrel or sparrow hawk. Most Romantic poets have been attracted to certain birds, nightingales, skylarks, and so on. It is more modern poets who have been attracted to hunting birds, such as in Ted Hughes' poem ‘Hawk', though sixteenth century poets were fond of their hunting birds, too. Sir Thomas Wyatt wrote a little poem beginning ‘Lux, my fair falcon, and thy fellows all...'.
Investigating The Windhover
  • What other poems about birds can you think of?
  • Do you know anyone who is a falconer?
    • What do you think the fascination of hunting birds is?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.