Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.


Birds appear throughout Hopkins’s poetry, frequently as stand-ins for God and Christ. In “The Windhover,” a poem dedicated to Christ, the speaker watches a falcon flying through the sky and finds traces of Christ in its flight path. The beauty of the bird causes the speaker to reflect on the beauty of Christ because the speaker sees a divine imprint on all living things. Similarly, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” meditates on the innate behaviors and patterns of beings in the universe: the inscape of birds manifests in their flights, much as the inscape of stone manifests in the sound of flowing water. Christ appears everywhere in these inscape manifestations. In Christian iconography, birds serve as reminders that there is life away from earth, in heaven—and the Holy Ghost is often represented as a dove. “God’s Grandeur” portrays the Holy Ghost literally, as a bird big enough to brood over the entire world, protecting all its inhabitants.


Hopkins uses images of fire to symbolize the passion behind religious feeling, as well as to symbolize God and Christ. In “God’s Grandeur,” Hopkins compares the glory of God and the beautiful bounty of his world to fire, a miraculous presence that warms and beguiles those nearby. He links fire and Christ in “The Windhover,” as the speaker sees a flame burst at the exact moment in which he realizes that the falcon contains Christ. Likewise, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” uses the phrase “catch fire” as a metaphor for the birds’ manifestation of the divine imprint, or inscape, in their natural behavior. In that poem too, the dragonflies “draw flame” (1), or create light, to show their distinct identities as living things. Nature’s fire—lightning—appears in other poems as a way of demonstrating the innate signs of God and Christ in the natural world: God and Christ appear throughout nature, regardless of whether humans are there to witness their appearances.


Trees appear in Hopkins’s poems to dramatize the earthly effects of time and to show the detrimental effects of humans on nature. In “Spring and Fall,” the changing seasons become a metaphor for maturation, aging, and the life cycle, as the speaker explains death to a young girl: all mortal things die, just as all deciduous trees lose their leaves. In “Binsey Poplars,” the speaker mourns the loss of a forest from human destruction, then urges readers to be mindful of damaging the natural world. Cutting down a tree becomes a metaphor for the larger destruction being enacted by nineteenth-century urbanization and industrialization. Trees help make an area more beautiful, but they do not manifest God or Christ in the same way as animate objects, such as animals or humans.