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 heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889), was largely unknown and unappreciated as a poet during his lifetime. His primary identity was as a Jesuit priest, although, having converted to Catholicism in his twenties—yet for his final academic thesis, championing the theology of Duns Scotus (over that of Aquinas)—he was never fully valued by the ecclesiastical community, despite his profound spiritual gifts. (How obtuse the collective can be. But that is its nature, and this is life: an ongoing interplay between individual and group.) Sadly, Hopkins’s strong devotion to religion caused him to feel an obligation to suppress both his creative work and (even) his enjoyment of the beauty he saw in the world—which seems quite strange to us, who understand such capacities to be gifts of the Spirit. Still, this didn’t diminish the almost painfully intense feeling he had for the natural world; it was for him a sacrament, and he knew the smallest molecule to be “charged with the grandeur of God”.
Hopkins’ poetic style is very unique. The combination of unusual rhythm (often specially marked in the text), a brilliantly original vocabulary / inventive metaphor (which necessitates slow, imaginative reading), and a seemingly deliberate density of syntax (sentence structure) all make his poems a challenging experience for the reader—yet how ultimately worthwhile! It is useful to read through a brief article like that in SparkNotes (sparknotes.com/poetry/hopkins/section4.rhtml) if you really can’t find your bearing, or to see if you’re ‘on the right track’ . . . at the same time, we may take to heart these words from Walking with Gerard Manley Hopkins by Robert Waldron (2011): It is not always easy, we should warn readers, to understand Hopkins’ verse; it takes effort, but we believe, along with T. S. Eliot, that poetry communicates even when we do not completely understand it. What we as readers need do is simply to be open to Hopkins’ genius, and gradually, with reading and further reading, the beauty and meaning of his words will be revealed.
My source for “Spring and Fall” was Hopkins: Poems and Prose in the series Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets; selection by Peter Washington, 1995. It’s an interesting and surprisingly replete little book, with fascinating selections of the poet’s sermons and correspondence in addition to many poems.
This post is a tiny gesture to honour the hugely courageous and gentle life of our dear dog, Roscoe, who died in January. Ours was the privilege of sharing ten years with him; his presence with us—a precious gift.