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Hopkins and Early English Riddling: Solving The Windhover?

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journal contribution
posted on 22.05.2017, 05:30 by Erin Sebo
Recently, James Finn Cotter suggested an intertextuality between three of Hopkins’s poems (The Wreck of the Deutschland (1875), The Windhover (1877), and The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe (1883)),
and the three Anglo-Saxon poems known in the nineteenth century as Christ which begin the Exeter Book. While I take issue with some aspects of Cotter’s argument, I will build on his valuable fundamental points: that there is a common sensibility between early English literature and Hopkins’s
poetry and that this is produced by a direct intertextuality. The present article is concerned with The Windhover alone, a sonnet which was written during Hopkins’s time in Wales and consequently more often read in terms of Hopkins’s interest in Welsh poetry. However, though Hopkins was
intrigued by Welsh poetics (especially its rhythm and rhyme) during this period, it was not, as Cotter demonstrates, the only influence upon his work. In the form, strategies, and purpose of The Windhover, the influence of early English poetry is visible. I will show that an intertextual reading of the poem—viewing it through the lens of the genre of the Anglo-Saxon riddle—has the capacity to shed light on this endlessly complex poem.


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