Sunday, 4 October 2009

Poem for Autumn

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.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

A young girl crying, as she watches the leaves fall, forms the inspiration for this poem. Hopkins feels that the child with her “fresh thoughts” can hardly understand what she is grieving over. The adult understands, what the child cannot yet grasp, that our sadness at the ending of the year and the death of nature is rooted in our knowledge of our own mortality; man was born for the “blight” of death, and, as Hopkins brilliantly concludes “It is Margaret you mourn for.”

No-one masters sound quite like Hopkins, all the w and l sounds in that “worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie” create such a sense of the weariness and sadness. At the same time this is a beautiful poem, the linking of youth and the ending of a cycle, the voice of the poet and the dawning awareness of a child, even the name “Goldengrove” which suggests all the richness of human life and experience as well as the gold of the autumn leaves.

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