Tuesday, April 7, 2009

National Poetry Month: Prestwick House Recommends...

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

Márgarét, are you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke 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.

This oft-anthologized poem is one of my all-time favorites in large part, I think, because it was the first poem I understood well enough to love. I was in ninth grade, in Mrs. H____’s “Circle-A” English class. First period.

As was typical instruction back in the day, we read the poem aloud—rather some volunteer or assignee read the poem aloud and the rest of us read along “silently, at [our] desks.” Then we’d “review” the poem, line by line, rhyme by rhyme.

It was a tedious enough exercise, and to give full credit to Mrs. H_____, this was “how it was done,” and she did it better than most. But what excited me was that I “got it.” Even as we were droning through:

Who [sic] is the poem addressed to?


What is her problem?

She is grieving.

Over what?

Goldengrove unleaving.

And what do you suppose Hopkins means by ‘Goldengrove’?

I got it. I got the sadness about the coming of autumn and the approach of winter (isn’t it wonderful that the initials for Seasonal Affective Disorder spell out SAD?). I got the allusion to the Fall of humankind. I got the speaker’s assertion that Margaret was actually saddened by a dawning awareness of her own mortality.

I didn’t get Hopkins’s “sprung rhythm,” and I still don’t. No matter though, because at the age of thirteen, I was understanding this wonderfully depressing poem about mortality with subtle spiritual undertones. Later, in college, I even got the allusion that no one seems to point out in textbooks or web sites. When the speaker tells Margaret,

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed

and everyone criticizes Hopkins’s syntax and the interruption of his sprung rhythm (which I still don’t get), I so clearly see—more than an allusion—a direct paraphrase of a passage from 1 Corinthians in the New Testament (Chapter 2, verses 9 and 10)

9But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. (KJV)

See how it fits? “Ghost guessed”—“revealed…by the Spirit,” and so on? (Hopkins was a Jesuit priest, so a biblical allusion would not be unexpected.)

“Spring and Fall” is a wonderful little poem, wonderful, possibly because of its simplicity that might also be complexity for those who want to keep searching. It’s a very teachable poem—which is probably why it is so frequently anthologized.

If you haven’t looked at it in a while, you should look at it again. And even if your kids tell you they’ve “already done it,” encourage them to do it again. Show them the Corinthians allusion. Even that little bit might be enough to show them that a great piece of literature is worth revisiting every couple of years.

-- Douglas Grudzina, New Product Development Specialist

No comments: