Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, "Spring and Fall," is an acceptance of the hardness and loss of sympathy that comes with age. The child Margaret reacts to her first experience of fall by weeping. Like everything in nature, the "golden" perfection of the leaves is temporal. On the other hand, "unleaving" also suggests staying and lasting. The speaker's words allude to the original "Goldengrove unleaving," the Garden of Eden. The first fall is the cause of all others. Margaret's "fresh thoughts" suggest a non-judgmental, non-objectifying capacity to feel and "care":
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
The syntax has become disjointed, as opposed to the simple and direct syntax of the first couplet of the poem. The speaker is aware that unlike the child, he is unmoved by the dying leaves. The speaker suggests that as she "grows older" she will become colder and uncaring.
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.
The speaker's words "By and by" suggest a resigned, careless attitude toward the passing of time in contrast to Margaret's present weeping over the fallen leaves. The speaker suggests that the child's experience and expression of grief is part of a life-long process of losing innocence. The speaker predicts that Margaret, like all human beings, will seek to "know" the cause of her suffering. The poem creates the sense that as humans grow in age and knowledge, they become less connected to their source of feeling. He goes onto suggest that the reason for suffering is unimportant because suffering is universal.
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.
Language and conscious thought cannot capture the deep well springs of feeling in the heart. In expressing the universality and inevitability of suffering, the speaker grows more distant from the child as well as less empathetic. The last line tempers some of the harshness of the previous pronouncement by individualizing the child's suffering.
At the beginning of the poem, what is the effect of the repetition and rhyming of the "you's"? Does it reveal anything about the relationship of the child and the speaker?
What is the tone of the poem? Why does the poem alternate between simple phrases and complex abstraction? Do transitions between ideas reveal anything about the speaker? Does the contorted language serve as a kind of defense against an experience of empathy or emotion?
What does it mean that the leaves are in fact "the things of man" as opposed to being like or analogous to them?
The exclaimed interjection of "Ah!" is characteristic of Hopkins. It comes at a moment when the speaker laments the cold, unweeping person Margaret is sure to become, a person he connects with himself. Is it an expression of sympathy or hopelessness? Does it represent a brief moment of true feeling that is not curbed by his former philosophical reasoning? Does the speaker's observation of the child cause him to recall his former emotional self?
Last modified 17 November 2003
Last modified 17 November 2003