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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Number 255: Gerard Manley Hopkins "Spring and Fall"

Spring and Fall

to a Young Child

Margaret, are you grieving 

Over Goldengrove unleaving? 

Leaves, like the things of man, you 

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? 

Ah! as the heart grows older 

It will come to such sights colder 

By and by, nor spare a sigh 

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; 

And yet you will weep and know why. 

Now no matter, child, the name: 

Sorrow's springs are the same. 

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed 

What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed: 

It is the blight man was born for, 

It is Margaret you mourn for.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hap Notes: This may be Hopkins most easily accessible poem. The autumn season often brings out a sadness in people but here we are dealing with a little girl who mourns the colorful death of the leaves. The poet/speaker tells the girl that he understands that she cares for the trees and the leaves with her "fresh thoughts", her young innocence, but as she grows older, she will see the cycle of life (spring and fall) and will be less emotionally affected – even when it seems the whole world is full of dead leaves in the autumn.

He goes on to say that the girl may be instinctively sensing that the death of the leaves is comparable to our own cycle of life and that may also be a reason for her own weeping. Fall is a reminder of our own mortality.

If you like this interpretation of the poem then go no further. Because I've got a fairly strong limb I'm going to go out on here. I don't want to ruin the poem for those that are satisfied (and quite rightly, too, it's a wonderful poem) with the depth it contains from this fairly traditional reading. Gerard Manley Hopkins was a devout Catholic priest so if you don't want to hear the "God stuff" stop right here. (I will not call you a Godless libertine if you do. However I will think you are a chicken for not manning up to the idea that God exists in this poem.)

Here goes my limb-walking ( don't try this at home kids) : Note the title of this poem. What in the world does it have to do with spring, I wonder? Sure it's part of the seasonal cycle but what does it imply by being there? Rebirth, maybe? And how does a mere mortal get rebirth? And what is the plight man is born for as expressed in Genesis? And what is this "ghost" in the girl that guesses this is the plight man was born for – can you think of anything holy that is spoken of as a ghost or spirit?

This "goldengrove" makes the scene seem a bit idyllic, yes? What place is idyllic in the bible? Could this be a nod toward Eden? And then, what is Margaret also weeping about? Maybe the fall of man from grace? And that this is our legacy? "And sorrows springs are the same" – could this mean that all of our sorrows come from the same source- the fall of man, which has led to all of our troubles? And as we "come to sights colder," are we just becoming the sinners with less and less innocence? Could Margaret be mourning this as well?

Okay, let's say you buy all this. Why would spring be in this poem? For that, I'm going out on a bit more of a fragile limb. The lines in the poem " Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed/What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed" immediately struck me as similar to a passage of the letter of Paul to the Corinthians: " the Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."

Also, there's the double entendre of "springs" as a season. Sorrow's season of spring has the same heartbreak within it because of the "fall" of man and the sacrifice that Jesus must make to save us, that his resurrection (after suffering) lets us live anew.

So there's something of the resurrection in this poem, out on this limb, in the title. Could this child, who morns the loss of the leaves. be also mourning the passion of Jesus? Could this whole poem be an allegory for the sorrow one feels at man's sinfulness and the lengths that God has to go to save us with Jesus? So we are mourning the plight of man and moved by the unlimited mercy of God?

Okay. You don't have to think of this poem as being specifically religious and all my tree-climbing to go out on some interpretive limbs may strike you as completely wrong.

Still, it's a wonderful poem no matter what your interpretation is, isn't it?

Here is where we have talked about Hopkins before:

and here

and here


and here

Hard to read Hopkins body of work without seeing God in it, though, isn't it?

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