The phrase in The Windhover"Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here / Buckle! — can support several interpretations:

1. The bird's brute (or animal) beauty, together with its bravery, act of hovering and conquering natural forces (wind and gravity), and its pride and feathers all buckle — or crumple, or fold up, as it dives to the earth and makes itself subject to gravity and material forces. (What happens to "air" in this reading?)

2. The verb is not just an exclamation but an imperative, an order; the speaker orders: Brute beauty, bravery, and act buckle on air, pride, and plume. Here the suggestion is of a knight or hero arming himself for combat, and both buckle and plume, which suggests a Greek or medieval helmet, support this reading.

3. Conversely, the speaker could be ordering air, pride, and plume to buckle on the other things, though such a reading may not seem as appealing.

Much of what we make of this line depends on how we take the "oh" that divides it. Does this interjection just pause with amazement and excitement, or does it function to separate the two halfs, making one subject and the other object? Again, what does such fluid, complex syntax tell us about how Hopkins wanted his poems to be read? And how does this reading method relate to the subject of the poem itself?

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Last modified 2000