The Windhover

Popular Poetry Course Poetry | IPA Symbols | Pronunciation | Vocabulary | Literature | Listenings


Because of their structure, poems are a great way of learning about the rhythm of the English language. In these Activities you will be able to listen to poetry, read it, and then improve your knowledge of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols, thus improving your pronunciation. The Activities also include information about the poets and some background to the writing of the poem. Finally, you will have the chance to test how much you have learned about the vocabulary and other aspects of the poems through some interactive exercises.

IPA Symbols

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation that was devised in the 19th century as a standardised way of representing the sounds of speech in written form. The British English IPA chart consists of 44 symbols representing the pure vowels (monophthongs), the gliding vowels (diphthongs), and the consonant sounds of spoken British English. The Britlish Library contains a wealth of Activities to help you to learn, remember, and use the British English IPA symbols efficiently whether you are a student or a teacher.


No matter how good your English grammar and vocabulary may be, if your pronunciation is so bad that nobody can understand a word you say, then your English won't be much good as a means of communication. You might be good at grammar, have a broad vocabulary, and be able to explain all the aspects and tenses of English, but it's not much good if you can't be understood when you speak. I have designed these Activities to help you to improve your pronunciation, as well as other areas of your English.


Did you know that there are over 600,000 words in English? That's a lot of words, and far more than any human being could ever manage to learn. Even Shakespeare only used around 55,000 different words in all of his works. Mind you, he did actually invent quite a few of them. To get a good mastery of English, you do need to expand your vocabulary as much as possible. The more words you know, the better your English will be. The Activities here will help you to quickly develop your vocabulary.


Some students like to sit back and listen to some interesting English. It doesn't get much more interesting than some of the old classics from English literature. These Activities have been created to help you get the best from the vocabulary found in some of the old classics. As you listen and read your way through these Activities, you will also broaden your understanding of English culture.


Reading is the easiest way to take in English. Listening is a much harder skill and one that has to be developed as you study the language. There are lots of speech features that arise when native English speakers speak English. These speech features, such as elision, simplification, intonation, stress, and rhythm, and the way in which speakers may miss out sounds or whole words, are important to understand if you are to be able to listen to and fully understand spoken English. These Britlish Library Activities will help you to develop you listening skills.  

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Widely anthologised, The Windhover, by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1884-1889), though dedicated To Christ our Lord, is a rapturous love poem to life itself. Hopkins struggled to balance his vocation as a Catholic Jesuit servant of God and his poetical yearnings. Because of this, and his experimental use of new metrical forms, and his religious faith, his poetry was largely unrecognised when he died aged 44. It was not until 1918 that his poems were first published. This poem remains one his best known and will help you with your pronunciation, your vocabulary, and your mastery of the IPA symbols. The lesson also has a prose interpretation to help you better understand the poem.

Popular Poetry Course

The Windhover

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king    

    dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

    As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!


Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!


   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.


Widely anthologised, The Windhover, by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1884-1889), though dedicated To Christ our Lord, is a rapturous love poem to life itself. Hopkins struggled to balance his vocation as a Catholic Jesuit servant of God and his poetical yearnings. Because of this, and his experimental use of new metrical forms, and his religious faith, his poetry was largely unrecognised when he died aged 44. It was not until 1918 that his poems were first published. This poem remains one his best known.

Hopkins studied classics at Oxford from 1863 to 1867 and while there enjoyed the social life and was a prolific poet. He made friends with the future Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges, who would bring him to the public attention after Hopkins' untimely death. Hopkins converted to Catholicism in 1866, a move which did not go down well with his family or friends, and in 1868, Hopkins "resolved to be religious" and decided to become a Jesuit. He then burnt all of his poetry.

Hopkins took the Jesuit vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in 1870 and felt that his poetry was getting in the way of his devotion to a religious life. Luckily, in 1872 he read the works of the medieval philosopher and priest, John Duns, and saw that both his poetry and his religious calling could coexist. In 1874, he was asked by his religious superior to write a poem of commemoration and so, in 1875, Hopkins returned to writing poetry.

The Windhover is about a kestrel that Hopkins saw in May 1877. "Windhover" is another name for the common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). The name refers to the bird's ability to hover in the air while hunting prey. Hopkins said that the poem was the best thing [he] ever wrote. Despite this, he vowed never to publish his poems because it would seem egotistical and against the humility his religious beliefs demanded. Ultimately, Hopkins felt that he had failed as both a poet and a Jesuit.

The last five years of Hopkins' life were spent as a classics professor at University College Dublin where he felt lonely and isolated. He was isolated from his family though his Jesuit beliefs. He was isolated from the people as an Englishman in Ireland during a period of political turmoil. He was isolated from his poetry as he had no audience due to his refusal to publish his work. Nevertheless, his last words were: "I am so happy, I am so happy. I loved my life."

Popular Poetry

There are many poems that are recognised, if not known, by many people, and which have become cultural icons. Far from being dead or irrelevant, poetry still maintains the capacity to strike deep at the heart of what it means to be English. These poems are as English as cathedrals and castles, Maypoles and Morris dancers and should be read and enjoyed by all English speakers and by those who aspire to understand more of what it means to be English.

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I Am!

In this lesson we will look at the poem, its background and that of its writer, John Clare, as well as some vocabulary from the poem including, abide, esteem, forsake, frenzied, hath, host, oblivious, scorn, shipwreck, stifled, throes, trod, vapours, vaulted, wept, and woe. You can read and listen to this poem, as well as get a deeper insight into it. There are plenty of exercises to help you with the IPA symbols and with your comprehension.  

Categories: Poetry | Literature | Speaking | Vocabulary | Pronunciation | IPA Symbols

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The poem, If-, by Rudyard Kipling was written around 1895, shortly after the birth of Kipling’s son, John. The poem is an example of Victorian stoicism and takes the form of the author’s paternal advice to his son. John Kipling was reported as wounded and missing in 1915 while serving as a Lieutenant during World War I, a post his father had secured him thanks to his social connections and despite his son’s severe myopia. His grave was not identified until 1992. You can read this poem in Latin script and in IPA script as well as listen to me read it for you.

Categories: Poetry | Pronunciation | Vocabulary | IPA Symbols | Literature | Listenings

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Snake is one of D. H. Lawrence's most famous poems and was published in the poetry collection Birds, Beasts and Flowers. I use this poem in this lesson to help you with your pronunciation, your vocabulary, your understanding of the British English IPA chart symbols, and to introduce you to this most beautiful of poems. Poems are a great way to enrich many aspects of your English and I hope that you enjoy the poem and the exercises included in the lesson.

Categories: Poetry | Vocabulary | IPA Symbols | Pronunciation | Literature | Listenings

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