159. Spring and Fall: Gerard Manley Hopkins

I pulled this out of the horrid novel “Commencement”. My wife’s book group twice canceled and she’s still only half way through it. I gave her permission to drop it after skimming the beginning and end. Horrible.

But some forgettable character mentioned this poem, and I looked it up.

Here’s my first question: What do you make of the epithet “to a young child”? Is that essential to the poem? What if Hopkins took it out; would it mean the same? Do poets have an obligation for brevity, and so it’s inclusion is at best a distraction? Does this poem being written for someone other than the reader negate anything gained? Is it like reading someone’s mail, or is this just a ruse Hopkins uses? Can we assume a certain universal in a poem, and how large of a circle should a poet draw before it becomes weak and ineffective–a mere greeting card indicating love by word, but with no heart?

My second question is: Have you experienced a loss of innocence? First, explain what it is. Now what? There is no going back to a belief in Santa, but wallowing in rotting leaves is hardly the life we dream for ourselves. What to do?! This is where middle school leaves the rest of the grades in the dust: Hope.

You will probably get more traction with symbolism. Spring. Fall. Leaves. Sorrow. Loss of innocence. Go to town, symbologists!

Spring and Fall
Gerard Manley Hopkins

to a young child

MÁRGARÉT, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás 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 wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.


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