Language and tone in The Windhover

Stress and alliteration

The language is so complex that every word could be commented on. There are a number of imagistic words associated with nobility, in contrast to the humility of ploughing and embers.

Hopkins makes us ultra-aware of his words by other means:

  • many are monosyllabic and call for a clear stress
  • many are formed into alliterative patterns - the first line of the sestet mirrors the same line in The Starlight Night: a long list of monosyllabic nouns with a pause or caesura:‘Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here'


The first line contains at least seven stresses, and the interjection of ‘oh' creates a deliberate pause to draw special attention to the next words. The interjection is repeated in ‘O my chevalier!', a subordinate addressing someone in authority.

‘O' often has an idea of desire, too, just as ‘ah' often has an idea of comfort or pity, as in ‘ah my dear'.

Word clusters and repetition

Hopkins uses word clusters, as in The Starlight Night:

  • ‘dapple-dawn-drawn'
  • ‘rolling level underneath him steady air' which works more like a German multiword
  • ‘blue-bleak'
  • ‘gold-vermilion'.

Also repetitions:

  • ‘off, off'
  • though ‘morning morning's' is the most eye-catching and dramatic.

Other features

  • The ‘I caught' of the first line really comes to mean ‘:I was caught by..'.
  • There are also word-breaks, where a word appears strung over the end of a line into the next, an internal enjambement, as in ‘king-/dom'.
  • Lastly we need to note the spelling of ‘AND', which has to mean ‘and yet' or ‘what is more'.

Hopkins is experimenting all the time, pushing out the boundaries of English poetry in a way that modern poets made much use of.

The Windhover
  • What other verbal devices not discussed so far have caught your eye?
  • Do you detect any change of tone in the poem?
    • What about ‘ah my dear' - who is this addressed to?
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