- Hopkins's KestrelDrafting "The Windhover," 1877–1884
This article offers the first full account of the textual genesis of "The Windhover," situating the revisions made to the poem between 1877 and 1884 in their specific social and theological contexts to clarify the spiritual axis along which it was written. Tracing the poem's compositional history also has significant implications for understanding Hopkins's verse craft and the development of sprung rhythm. The seminal changes of 1884 can be dated very specifically to a fortnight between late February and early March, coinciding with the start of Lent. This time frame is consolidated by juxtaposing these changes alongside several entries particularizing Hopkins's daily meditative practices in the Dublin Notebook that are extremely pertinent to the poem and that have not hitherto been assessed in conjunction with it. Whereas the 1877 emendations to "The Windhover" record a poet's instinctive joy in the natural world, those of 1884 are predominantly determined by a priest's wish to adhere to the will of God.
Situating the revisions made to "The Windhover" between 1877 and 1884 in their specific social and theological contexts clarifies the spiritual axis along which it was written, in turn complicating William Empson's famous interpretation of the poem. Tracing in detail this compositional history also has significant implications for understanding Hopkins's verse craft and the development of sprung rhythm. There are three extant manuscripts of "The Windhover,," two in the poet's hand dating from the early and late summer of 1877 and one made by Robert Bridges, Hopkins's friend and literary executor, in the autumn of 1883.1 Both autograph manuscripts were forwarded to Bridges and mounted by him into an album, MS A, for safekeeping. The earliest autograph, MS A1, intended as a fair copy of the first version written on May 30, 1877, instead bears evidence of the energies of fresh composition (fig. 1).2 Bridges received it "before 16 July 1878" and possibly eleven months earlier.3 The second autograph, MS A2, is a bona fide fair copy with further substantive revisions to lines 2–5 thought to date from the late summer of 1877 (fig. 2). It was most [End Page 43] likely sent to Bridges "after 14 May 1880" (PW, p. 377). In 1883, Bridges transcribed many of Hopkins's autographs, including "The Windhover," into a second album, MS B, to lend to friends (fig. 2). Before loaning it out, Bridges dispatched this album to Hopkins for editing, and it arrived at Stonyhurst in mid-December 1883 for the purpose.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Norman MacKenzie has stipulated that Hopkins "had little leisure" for revision that Christmas and, in any case, was hampered "by having few fair copies of his own creations against which to check the Bridges transcripts" (PW, p. xxxvii). Moreover, he was anxious about his prospective life in Ireland. MacKenzie does not mention "The Windhover" as among the poems Hopkins did manage to revise before moving to Dublin on February 18, 1884, to take up his dual appointment as Professor of Classics at University College and Fellow of the Royal University of Ireland. Coventry Patmore asked to see Hopkins's poems in a letter of January 21, 1884—a solicitation that may have encouraged revision—and was in possession of MS B on March 6.4 Taking Mac-Kenzie's provision alongside Patmore's receipt of the second album, Hopkins's last amendments to "The Windhover" in MS B can be dated very specifically [End Page 44] to a fortnight between late February and early March 1884, nearly seven years after the poem was begun. Patmore returned MS B to Bridges, not Hopkins, in July 1884, and in red ink Bridges adjusted the latest autograph of the poem he had...