A curious change has taken place at the College over the last few weeks — our embarrassingly bare trees have found some modesty in sprouting a few leaves, and the weather no longer dictates what we wear or where we spend our time. It seems spring has finally reached Williamstown! Yet exactly at this moment, the inexorable pull of the new course catalog, of agonizing and exulting over plans for our futures, places us squarely in a future-facing limbo that threatens to make us neglect the wonders of the present.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about “The Windhover,” a short poem by Victorian-era Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins. It’s a work about the flight of a kestrel, or windhover, and it’s also a poem that, with its uniquely tumbling rhythm and ecstatic, loving imagery, celebrates nature and reveres its beauty. Its urgent praise of life fully lived, even that of a bird, can show us ways of being more present in this time of spring and enjoying it despite our worries about the future.
Hopkins paints this little creature in a wonderful light as he “caught this morning morning’s minion, king / dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon,” using the sun to lovingly render his majestic windhover in air. I am reminded of Sawyer Quad when the afternoon has just barely turned to evening and searching rays of sunlight set everything in their sight ablaze with warmth. I spent a lovely Monday (such is the power of spring, to make Mondays lovely!) in exactly such a scene recently — yet nonetheless, gnawing at me was the looming presence of the course catalog and the imminence of pre-registration. How can we truly be satisfied with our present, however pleasant, if we must always look to the future?
I thought to myself — ‘Well, I should just plan for the future, and then everything will be fine!’ So, last weekend, I spent hours crafting the perfect schedule, alternately panicking at enrollment information and sighing in stressed triumph when some plausible course selections finally clicked. I found backups, then I found backups for my backups. Having achieved something ideal, I could stand back and admire my meticulously constructed creation, just as Hopkins extols his soaring kestrel — his “heart in hiding / Stirred for a bird, — the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!” Hopkins’ dormant passion awakens for the flawless vigor of life, which we too should pause to appreciate in the first blooms of spring. Even amid this bliss, though, I couldn’t help but continue to obsess over that course schedule of mine — maybe I’d found perfection in that, too!
Our poet, however, finds an even greater perfection in life’s imperfections, as he marvels, enraptured, at the windhover’s faltering flight — “Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion / Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!” To buckle is to stumble, to realize an ideal schedule may be a fantasy, to recognize that likelier than not, our futures will end up looking different than we envisioned — it’s here that we find truth, bravery, and splendor. In our inevitably scattered lives, where things don’t always go to plan, we are called to reconcile ourselves with shifting realities — ones that we come to know are more than beautiful enough in themselves.
As we’re seduced by springtime and coaxed into the outdoors, let us remember that we can find a thunderous affirmation of life even in the seemingly pedestrian — like the little daffodils cropping up in the grass, or the goofy starlings hopping about the town. Not living out exactly the futures we dream up for ourselves at Williams will result in new passions we find in new places, ones that we never thought to encounter. We live in a world where, as Hopkins achingly tenderly notes, even “blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, / Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion,” where what initially alarms or disheartens can transform into the most radiant comfort and happiness, and where beauty is found in the unlikeliest of moments.
Read “The Windhover” here.
Rijul Jain ’25 is from San Jose, Calif.