Language Use in MacDiarmid's Water Gaw and Hopkins' Windhover Analysis

Louis Althusser’s thesis that, ‘Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence’[1] means that reality is always subjected to the system beliefs of the dominant culture. Born in Scotland, Christopher Murray Grieve strived to go against the dominant language system of English instigating a revival of the Scots language in literature. Reinventing himself in what Laura O’Donnell defines as: the ‘Anglicised Gaelic pseudonym Hugh MacDiarmid’, he reconstructs himself as a Bard, in a hyperbolic attempt to define his nationalism[2].

He wrote in Scots from 1922, when he published The Watergaw, until 1929, when the limitations of the Scots language and the lack of monetary viability saw him move back to writing in the dominant English language. Roderick Watson highlights that, MacDiarmid, when advised to write in his old lyric style by the Scots Observer, wrote a ‘furious letter which resolutely refused to consider the tastes of the Scottish reading public ‘in any way’’. [3] This essay will compare The Watergaw with MacDiarmid’s English translation, to consider the stylistic and ideological implications of the translation.

Get quality help now
Sweet V
Sweet V
checked Verified writer

Proficient in: English Language

star star star star 4.9 (984)

“ Ok, let me say I’m extremely satisfy with the result while it was a last minute thing. I really enjoy the effort put in. ”

avatar avatar avatar
+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

I will argue that MacDiarmid’s sabotage of the English language was deliberate and that despite his antisyzygy he anglicised some of his words unnecessarily, conforming to the dominant English language system. MacDiarmid claims that the Scots ‘vernacular has a wider range and infinitely richer resources than English’ (RW, p. 17). MacDiarmid’s deviant English translation of The Watergaw compounds this concept. By translating meaning rather than giving a literal translation, MacDiarmid denies the reader artistic expression and interpretation.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

The Scots idiom: ‘Yow-trummle’ [4] translates as ‘ewe-tremble’ (RW, p. 17). However, MacDiarmid translates this as ‘sheep-shearing season’ which is a phrase that functions as deixis, denying the poeticness of the line. Despite the alliterative effect of the ‘sh’ and the rhyming vowel repetition of the ‘ee’ and the ‘ea’, the line resembles prose. Syntactical deviation occurs when additional syllables of the English translation increase the line length by two extra feet, making it seem clumsy, negating the usual succinctness or finesse of poetry.

Semantic deviation occurs since the translation loses the poetic connotations and powerful imagery of ‘ewe-tremble’. Similarly, the Scots’ idiom: ‘there was nae reek i’ the laverock’s hoose’ (HM) has a literal translation of ‘there’s no smoke in the lark’s house’[5]. MacDiarmid however, translates it as: ‘The skylark’s nest was dark and desolate’ (HM). Again there is a vast distance between the poetic natures of both, with his English translation feeling more like prose.

Although similar in length, the phonological superiority of the rich rolling ‘r’ sound in the Scottish version intensifies the dreariness of the English translation. The alliterative plosive ‘d’ harshness of ‘dark’ and ‘desolate’ also connotes the dreariness of the poem. MacDiarmid deviates semantically by denying the translations poeticness, insinuating the impossibility of abstract expression and the incapability of meaning transference between the two languages.

This seems to be a deliberate attempt to destabilise the English language and add power to MacDiarmid’s fight against the dominant culture. In denying the original abstract meaning of The Watergaw, MacDiarmid loses some of the overall metaphorical impact and linguistic connections of the poem. The ‘yow-trummle’, the trembling of the ewes, epitomises the indecisive Scottish weather and its refusal to give way to summer making the newly shorn sheep cold. This is paralleled with the ‘chitterin’ licht’ of the ‘watergaw’ (HM) that acknowledges the poets refusal to let go of a loved one who has died.

The words ‘chitterin’’ and ‘trummle’ (meaning tremble) are synonymous, allowing for a semantic repetition that is lost in translation. The poet’s description of the ‘yon antrin thing’ (HM), with the consonance on the ‘n’ and the combination of the plosive ‘t’ accentuating the rolling alveolar trill of the ‘r’ phoneme in ‘trin’, reinforces the image of rare beauty that is the indefinable ‘watergaw’. In stark contrast to this, ‘the occasional, rare thing’ has no phonological rhyme lacking the fluidity of the Scottish version.

The word ‘occasional’ connoting now and then, deflates the beautiful rarity of the ‘watergaw’. The ‘watergaw’ is translated as a ‘broken shaft of rainbow’ (HM), deviating semantically from defining the beauty and delicateness of a glimpse or whisper of a rainbow. The harsh ‘broken’ with its plosive ‘b’ phoneme, connoting negativity , is reinforced by ‘shaft’ which takes on a harsher denotation due to the close proximity to ‘broken’; seems to be a deliberate ploy by MacDiarmid to sabotage the beauty of the original meaning.

MacDiarmid’s English translation then, seems anti-poetic; as to deny expression, MacDiarmid is going against the enigma and awe that most poets strive for. It would have been possible to keep the beauty for example: ‘the half whisper of a rainbow’ which, though I am not a poet, sounds much gentler than the harsh lexicon used by MacDiarmid. Despite his claim of antisyzygy, determining his anti-synthesisation of the Scots vernacular and Standard English (AB, p. 53), MacDiarmid’s lexical choices include a synergy of both languages.

MacDiarmid frequently uses an apostrophe in place of dropped consonants. For example in Scots, MacDiarmid uses: ‘i’’ instead of in; ‘wi’’ instead of with; ‘o’’ instead of of; ‘chitterin’’ instead of chittering, ‘an’’ instead of and, and ‘sin’’ instead of since. He has also written ‘sin’ syne’ (HM), where he could have written syne then, to mean since then, as both words were in the Jamieson dictionary he consulted[6]. Some dictionaries list sinsyne [7]as one complete word, so it was unnecessary to split up the word and include an apostrophe.

Mairi Robinson writes: ‘where a Scot’s word differed from a corresponding English word in the apparent omission of a letter, this was acknowledged with an…apostrophe’. [8] The additional apostrophe insinuates a deviation from Standard English, thus demeaning the Scots language which should be written as spoken with no punctuation to serve in the place of ‘missing’ phonemes. The use of an apostrophe anglicises the word, so though he is claiming to be against the unity of both English and Scottish languages, he falls into the dominant language despite the availability of Scottish alternatives.

Internal deviation occurs in two lines of The Watergaw, when MacDiarmid reverts from Scottish lexicon to English. The two connected phrases: ‘the last wild look’ and ‘What your look meant then’ (HM), are identical in both versions. Both are associated directly since they are first, about the memory of the look and second, the epiphany when the poet finally interprets the meaning of the look. Scottish alternatives exist such as: leuk, gley,or glint, for ‘look’; ill ee (evil eye) or gallus for ‘wild’; hinmaist for ‘last’ or he could have written the words phonetically how they sound[9].

This deviation seems strange with his passion for antisyzygy suggesting his dislike of bi-lingual diglossia in literature. It highlights the dominance of the English language and insinuates that either he thought these non-Scottish words were adequate, since there are no special Scottish connotations attached, or he was too busy focusing on the politics to realise, that despite his best efforts, he too conformed to the dominant cultural ideology. MacDiarmid’s brief time of writing in the Scots language was the catalyst for a Scottish literature revival.

His claim of antisyzygy against the English language seems ironic due to his continual synthesis of both Scottish and English and then eventual return to writing purely in English. Compounded by his vehement refusal to write in Scots again, seems to deny viability of his altruistic fight to revive the Scots language. Through stylistic analysis, this essay has shown how MacDiarmid used his English translation of The Watergaw, as a semaphoric device to hyperbolise the deficiency of the English language.

Despite this deficiency, MacDiarmid soon returned to writing in English due to the lack financial and artistic reward. Simpson describes foregrounding as linguistics way of ‘drawing attention to itself’ or ‘making strange’, using two devices: deviation from linguistic norms; or repetition of pattern through parallelism[10]. Gerard Manley Hopkins is one poet who made good use of foregrounding techniques in his poetry. To him, the world was full of ‘inscapes’, his name for all of nature as designed by God.

Hopkins’s concept of inscape was incorporated into his poetry where he used many design techniques to accentuate what he believed to be the natural rhythm of speech. The sound of the poem was paramount to Hopkins, and he devised a new form of metre called ‘sprung rhythm’ that allowed more freedom to his poetry. It meant that there was no limit to the amount of syllables used as only the stressed syllables were counted. The ‘spare’ syllables were called ‘outriding feet’ and could only be included if they heightened the sound effect.

Hopkins stressed that the sound of spoken language took precedence over comprehension stating: ‘poetry is speech framed to be heard for its own sake and interest even over and above the interest of meaning’[11]. Due to the superiority of sound, Hopkins poems can be difficult to interpret. This essay will look at how a stylistic analysis of The Windhover, allows for an interpretation that accentuates meaning. To highlight this, a close reading of the first two lines of the poem will be undertaken, looking at the foregrounding devices of parallelism and deviation through different language levels.

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king- dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding [12] Hopkins parallels three synonymous noun phrases consecutively, foregrounding the importance of the falcon in the poem: ‘morning’s minion’, ‘kingdom of daylight’s dauphin’ and ‘dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon’. All three phrases are names that the poet gives to the falcon that he is writing about. By naming the falcon in three different ways, the poet is drawing out the introduction to the falcon that infers his awe, admiration and astonishment of the falcon.

This awe is further accentuated through semantic deviation, when Hopkins personifies ‘morning’s’ and ‘daylight’s’ by adding an apostrophe s. Morning and daylight are abstract occurrences of nature that are not usually humanised and through personification, Hopkins makes them close associates of the falcon, emphasising the importance of the falcon. A syntactical parallelism can be found between ‘morning’s minion’ and ‘daylight’s dauphin’ as they both have four syllables each. The morpheme ‘morn’ is a hyponym of ‘day’; and ‘minion’ can be deemed as both a synonym and hyponym of ‘dauphin’, making them both hyponyms of ‘king’.

In the OED the words ‘minion’ and ‘dauphin’ can both mean prince signifying the royal power afforded to the falcon which is further stressed by the use of ‘kingdom’, inferring their supremacy and the falcon’s connection to them[13]. The words ‘kingdom of daylight’s’ could also be determined as a semantically disparate and therefore a collocational clash, since daylights abstractness negates the chance of it having a kingdom and therefore reigning over anything tangible. The lexical choice of the poet heightens the associations between words and the inferences garnered from them.

Without a stylistic analysis, that highlights the parallelism techniques used, it is difficult to grasp the deep meaning and connections that subconsciously convey the awe of the poet and the subsequent supremacy the falcon is given as a result. Further, Hopkins uses grammatical deviation to accentuate the power of the falcon. By capitalising the ‘F’ in ‘Falcon’, Hopkins changes it from a common noun to a proper noun. This gives the falcon an individual identity, differentiating between him and all other falcons.

He is no longer just a species of bird, he is now the: ‘dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon’. Hopkins frequently hyphenates words turning them into compound adjectives (HC, p. 26). By hyphenating the words together, Hopkins is diverting the specific meaning of the word and defining this individual falcon by a unique name, identifying not only what it looks like but the falcon’s individual personality: he is the speckled falcon that is compelled to appear by the dawning of a new day. The multiple name variations hyperbolise the falcon’s importance to nature, and thus the poet.

Using graphological deviation, Hopkins capitalises the word ‘CAUGHT’ conveying the experience of seeing the falcon as sort of epiphany. The poet is using stylistic foregrounding techniques of deviation to magnify the power and intensity of the falcon to the reader. Hopkins’ uses powerful alliteration to slow down the reader and accentuate the power of the falcon. The words ‘dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon’, all alliterate on the ‘d’ sound. The voiced alveolar plosive ‘d’ sound is harsh, as it involves stopping the airflow in the vocal tract [14].

This ensures a tongue twisting marathon that makes the reader stop and think about the words and their meanings, giving closer connections to the falcon. The powerful harsh sound of the ‘d’ intensifies the spectacular power of the falcon. The phrase: ‘dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon’ evokes strong imagery of a royal horse drawn carriage associating the falcon with royalty. The repetition on the ‘d’ phoneme echoes the sound horses hooves make on the ground, that is reinforced by the word ‘dapple’, often a collocation of horse, and ‘drawn’ which is associated with drawing a carriage.

Repetition of the word ‘morning’ in ‘morning morning’s minion’ also encourages the reader to pause allowing closer focus on what the poet has written therefore intensifying the connection with the falcon. The plethora of sound devices intensifies the reader’s attachment to the poem; however, stylistic analysis allows a more intimate connection and understanding of how the poet captivates the reader. Graphological deviation occurs in the first line, where MacDiarmid splits the word ‘king- / dom’ over a line boundary, allowing for numerous interpretations of meaning.

Mick Short claims this deviation from the norm carries ‘special significance’ and encourages the reader to focus more intently on the reason for the split morpheme. Short postulates that the ‘dom’ suffix of ‘king-/dom’ actually means doom since it is ‘historically the same morpheme’. He equates the word doom to meaning judgement suggesting Hopkins poem is a paean to Christ, as ‘king’ and judgement equate to both Christ’s status and crucifixion[15]. However, according to the OED ‘dom’ can mean almost the opposite to Short’s interpretation.

Not only can it relate more closely to royal status with the words ‘position’ and ‘statute’ being described but it also gives the sense of ‘dignity’, ‘domain’ and ‘realm’. Keeping with the religious interpretation, ‘dom’ is also ‘a shortened form of L dominus, [that is] prefixed to the names of…monastic dignitaries’. All associate with the word ‘king’, accentuating the falcon’s regality. To relate it to a religious perspective, the repetition of words associating with ‘king’, infers a celebration of Christ’s life rather than his death.

There is lexical cohesion of the words: ‘minion’, ‘king-‘, ‘dom’ and ‘dauphin’, as all are hyponyms of royalty. By breaking up the word ‘king-/dom’, which both insinuate royalty, Hopkins is reinforcing the regal element by continuous repetition. Alternatively, Hopkins could have split the word to allow for ‘king’ to fit into the parallel end-rhyme scheme of the octave: ‘riding’, ‘striding’, ‘wing’, ‘swing’, ‘gliding’, ‘hiding’ and ‘thing’. Stylistic analysis helps to identify the levels of language employed, increasing the enjoyment and understanding of the poem.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ passion for the sound of poetry was sometimes detrimental to comprehension. His prominent use of alliteration intensified the sound effect and this is particularly noticeable in the The Windhover. Although there are many more foregrounding techniques to be found in these two lines, this essay identifies some of the richness of Hopkins’ methods that are common to his poetry, such as: Alliteration, parallelism, compound adjectives, capitalisation and end rhyme. Though due to lack of space has missed many more.

Updated: May 03, 2023
Cite this page

Language Use in MacDiarmid's Water Gaw and Hopkins' Windhover Analysis. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

Language Use in MacDiarmid's Water Gaw and Hopkins' Windhover Analysis essay
Live chat  with support 24/7

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment