Spring and Fall by Gerard Manley Hopkins

to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! 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.

Summary

Spring and Fall poem was written by Hopkins in 1880. This poem is remarkably condensed and compressed. The poem opens with a tender and gentle address by a father-confessor to an imaginary child.

This is one of the few poems of Hopkins in which the doctrinal viewpoint does not dominate. ‘Spring’ in the title of the poem suggests, both the season of spring during which nature takes on a new look, and the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve lived so blissfully before their transgression. ‘Fall’ in the title similarly suggests two things: the autumn season,when the leaves fall, and the Fall of Adam, the penalty which he got for his transgression.

The child Margaret of the opening statement of the poem is an imaginary child. Likewise, ‘Goldengrove’ is no actual place, although the reference to Byzantium where there were golden trees may be made. The poet begins by giving a picture of autumn season when leaves begin to fall from trees. The poet asks Margaret if she is full of sorrow because leaves in the Goldengrove are falling. The poet asks her the reason of weeping. Then he asks her whether she is so upset because the leaves in the grove are falling or whether she is weeping for a similar mortality in human world. Here leaves like the things/humans suggest the Biblical assertion in Issiah, ‘And we all do fade as the leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away”. The poet asks the child whether she, in all her simplicity, is grieving over the trees in the grove getting leafless and their beauty fading away. The father asks the child not to be so sensitive because as she matures she will know the facts of life and hence of decay and drabness of things in the autumn season.

In the concluding lines of the poem the poet speaks about the little girl Margaret who has no suitable words, nor real understanding of her own grief. She does not know that like the leaves she is also liable to decay. Her heart half knows and her heart has half guessed the cause of her grief. But she has no definite words through which she could express the thoughts that come to her mind. Still her heart has sensed the truth almost intuitively.

But it must be remembered that the poem does not end on a note of admonition to Margaret. It is on a note of sympathy, Wordsworthian sympathy, that the poem ends. In this poem Hopkins expresses with poignant regret the fact of decay and mortality with great tenderness and pathos. In the words of Thornton, “The series of balances and comparisons in the poem give it a calm persuasive articulation, and the consciousness of all that is involved in‘knowledge’ and ‘fall’ gives this apparently slight poem a great deal of weight”.

Analysis

‘Sring and Fall’ is one of Hopkins’ most popular poems. It is also one of his sad poems. This poem was written by Hopkins in the spring of 1880. It was written by Hopkins when he was struggling with great personal depression. Here we find him overworked and worried. Then he was living in Liverpool which for him was “the most museless, a most unhappy and miserable spot”. About this poem he wrote to his friend Robert Bridges, “(it is) a little piece composed since I began this letter, not founded on any real incident. I am not well satisfied with it”. Still, it remains a poem of great lyrical intensity and passion in which technical innovations also abound. The poem expresses the idea of sad mortality of man and nature alike. The child Margaret who weeps because of the golden leaves falling in autumn really mourns, though she does not yet know it, her own mortality.

The poem concerns human mortality. It is a kind of lamentation which the poet makes because of the Fall of man. In the beginning man lived in perfect innocence and bliss in the Garden of Paradise, but now after the disobedience of God, he has been made to decay and death. In this connection the use of the coined word “Goldengrove” in the second line of the poem is greatly suggestive. To some it is a simple and rather gratuitous invention; they consider it to be merely a description of trees, the leaves of which have turned red and yellow, or“gold”. The unleaving of the Goldengrove, however, gains wider implication when we consider it with reference to the Garden of Paradise. The leaves that are falling, we are told are“like the things of man” (line 3). So Goldengrove may also stand for “golden days of youth”,the spring time of life. Thus the two aspects – the seasons of the year and chronological stages of man’s life, get united in this one word. Then, the capitalization of the word “Goldengrove”alerts us to other suggestions in the poem “worlds of wanwood”, “ghost guessed”, and “theblight man was born for”. The words – “world”, “ghost” and “blight” – give us an invitation to read the poem in the context of the Garden of Eden for which “Goldengrove” is a happy coinage.

From the ninth line onwards we find a change in the thought of the poem. Here he tells us about the cause of Margaret’s grieving;

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed.
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Now we are told about the cause why death and decay have come into the world.Thus we come across a double symbolism in the poem. Fall refers to autumn as well as man’s fall from grace. And Spring stands for the fountain head of sorrow (the Original Sin) and the spring of tears. Thus, this poem expresses Hopkins’ conviction that all sorrow springs from one cause – mortality, deriving from sin, and this is so, whether we are conscious of it or not.Margaret, now a mere child, will grow soon, and like Hopkins come to know of this great truth.

The poem is a direct address to the girl, Margaret, and there is no scene-setting worth the name. The poem is written objectively. But we can feel that this is rather away from the truth. The poem is a projection of the poet’s self in the form of Margaret. And the generalization of the human condition may also be read as the consciousness of the poet’s own position.In Margaret he recognizes his own youth, and the distance he has traveled from it. Natural beauty, instead of being a revelation of God, is increasingly seen as a reminder of the shortness of his own life and his own mortal nature.

Hopkins has garnered the common resources of language and invented new words by extending the common process of its development and growth (shifting parts of speech,compounding new words from old elements). In the coinage of new words Hopkins has used old elements into new entities. In this poem he has twice coined two new words in a single line.In the second line he has coined “Goldengrove” and “unleaving”, and in the line eight “wanwood”and “leafmeal”. The happy choice of the coinage of Goldengrove has already been explained.As regards “unleaving”- it is composed of a noun “leaf” used as a verb with a negative prefix “un” to mean “leaving leaves”. The cause of misunderstanding is that many people consider it a compound of “leave” used as verb with the compound “un”.

The other line that contains two coined words is line eight. “Wanwood” is a compound of two words – “wood” and “wan”. And the woods are pale because the trees have shed theirleaves and so they have become “wan”, that is pale. “Leafmeal”d seems ambiguous but this ambiguity is soon removed. Here we have to remember that there is a world in English, “piece-meal” which means “piece by piece”. Likewise leafmeal means “leaf by leaf”. This line, thus may be read : “though huge areas of dark, colourless groves have dropped their leaves on the ground, one by one to decay, becoming a mass of mealy matter”.

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