Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall” presents a young girl’s apparently frivolous grief. Hopkins quickly clarifies that the child’s mourning's seeming frivolity actually is much more serious than he initially suggests. “Spring and Fall” uses the changing of seasons to comment upon humanity’s pre-disposition for sadness, sin and ultimately death. The poem furthermore begs the question of peoples' response to discovering their inherent death.In “Spring and Fall: to a Young Child” Hopkins suggests that all individuals grieve for themselves and their fate.
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.
Margaret functions as the stand-in for every person who in childhood came to the realization that seasons are transient. Hopkins uses the idea of seasonal shift, of “leaves” falling from trees and the destroyed ideal of “Goldengrove unleaving,” to suggest time’s inevitability. The loss of constancy and childhood innocence, suggested by this realization that time brings about change, implies maturity comes with the understanding or original sin. The poem’s rhythm and phrasing are reminiscent of a nursery rhyme — the rhyme scheme results in a paradoxically soothing text. Hopkins sets up the end of the poem as a moral lesson, except that the moral learned would not be anticipated from the poem’s beginning. Hopkins does not necessarily suggest that Margaret should stop “grieving,” instead he invokes the idea of “blight man was born for” which seems to reference original sin. Thus Margaret represents the everyman, or perhaps the every-child, on the brink of realizing the “blight” of the human condition. Time causes change and brings loss, and death waits at the end of the human life. Hopkins provides the moral that all humanity “mourn[s]” itself for all humanity is equally ill-fated and “will” die.
“Spring and Fall” appears to have reference to the Book of Job.
1. Pray, call, is there any to answer thee? And unto which of the holy ones dost thou turn?
2 For provocation slayeth the perverse, And envy putteth to death the simple,
3 I — I have seen the perverse taking root, And I mark his habitation straightway,
4 Far are his sons from safety, And they are bruised in the gate, And there is no deliverer.
5 Whose harvest the hungry doth eat, And even from the thorns taketh it, And the designing swallowed their wealth.
6 For sorrow cometh not forth from the dust, Nor from the ground springeth up misery.
7 For man to misery is born, And the sparks go high to fly.
8 Yet I — I inquire for God, And for God I give my word,
9 Doing great things, and there is no searching. Wonderful, till there is no numbering.
10 Who is giving rain on the face of the land, And is sending waters on the out-places.
11 To set the low on a high place, And the mourners have been high in safety.
12 Making void thoughts of the subtle, And their hands do not execute wisdom.
13 Capturing the wise in their subtility, And the counsel of wrestling ones was hastened,
14 By day they meet darkness, And as night — they grope at noon.
15 And He saveth the wasted from their mouth, And from a strong hand the needy,
16 And there is hope to the poor, And perverseness hath shut her mouth.
17 Lo, the happiness of mortal man, God doth reprove him: And the chastisement of the Mighty despise not,
18 For He doth pain, and He bindeth up, He smiteth, and His hands heal.
19 In six distresses He delivereth thee, And in seven evil striketh not on thee.
20 In famine He hath redeemed thee from death, And in battle from the hands of the sword.
21 When the tongue scourgeth thou art hid, And thou art not afraid of destruction, When it cometh.
22 At destruction and at hunger thou mockest, And of the beast of the earth, Thou art not afraid.
23 (For with sons of the field is thy covenant, And the beast of the field Hath been at peace with thee.)
24 And thou hast known that thy tent is peace, And inspected thy habitation, and errest not,
25 And hast known that numerous is Thy seed, And thine offspring as the herb of the earth;
26 Thou comest in full age unto the grave, As the going up of a stalk in its season.
27 Lo, this — we searched it out — it is right, hearken; And thou, know for thyself!
This Job passage directly states that “For sorrow cometh not forth from the dust, Nor from the ground springeth up misery. For man to misery is born, And the sparks go high to fly.” Misery arises not from the external but rather is part of the human condition. As Hopkins suggests in “Spring and Fall,” humans are destined to mourn themselves — their death and their limited time on earth, the Book of Job also addresses the inherent sorrow in the human condition of mortality.
1. In “Spring and Fall” Hopkins speaks of “sorrow’s springs,” apparently referencing that spring is no different than fall in that the sorrow of human mortality exists in both. In light of the Job 5: 6-7, which speaks of “sorrow” not “springing” from “dust” but rather inherent in birth, does Hopkins intend this reference since both imply that in the season of rebirth, there is still sorrow inherent?
2. Job 5: 1- 27 specifically addresses “the perverse” human. Concurrently, the text seems to imply that almost all men fall into this category of perversity. Does this mean that most all mankind is doomed in their fate of death; is there only hope for the non-perverse? In Hopkins’ poem too, Margaret (or the every-child) is in self-mourning, is “to misery born.” Does Hopkins mean to imply that Margaret is perverse, and potentially damned and thus that every man is potentially damned by their self-sorrow?
3. What is the specific purpose of the accents over “heart heard” and “ghost guessed” ? Is it significant that the accents fall on to two alliterated phrases?
4. If heaven is the ultimate potential destination, then does Margaret (and most all humanity) inherently sin by mourning their earthly existence?
5. Does Margaret’s self-mourning possibly prevent her from entry into Heaven, is it a manifestation of sin or an inherent occurrence in humanity?
6 . Does religion replace childhood fantasy? In innocence a child can create safe worlds in which they believe and into which they can disappear — as an adult realizing the condition of the world, does faith take the place of childhood fantasy, a way to distance oneself from the inevitability of death?
Last modified 25 April 2011