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Spring and Fall

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  • December 3, 2010
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Spring and Fall, written by Gerard Manley Hopkins, is a simple and graceful poem that has a powerful religious theme. It is about changing seasons and mankind's mortality. The poem addresses Margaret, which is generally assumed to be a young girl. We assume this based on the use of the word Golden grove, which can mean a simple, dream-like, play-world.

The narrator asks the young girl why Golden grove is "unleaving", or losing its leaves. This falling of the leaves occurs in the autumn as winter approaches. It's clear that Margaret's "reality" of Golden grove is nearly as important to her as the reality of the world. She is in a state of emotional shock as she realizes that the beautiful trees around her are experiencing a form of death and decay.

The poem opens with a question to a child: “Margaret, with her “fresh thoughts,” cares about the leaves as much as about “the things of man.” The speaker reflects that age will alter this innocent response, and that later whole “worlds” of forest will lie in leafless disarray (“leafmeal,” like “piecemeal”) without arousing Margaret’s sympathy. The child will weep then, too, but for a more conscious reason. However, the source of this knowing sadness will be the same as that of her childish grief—for “sorrow’s springs are the same.” That is, though neither her mouth nor her mind can yet articulate the fact as clearly as her adult self will, Margaret is already mourning over her own mortality.

The title of the poem invites us to associate the young girl, Margaret, in her freshness, innocence, and directness of emotion, with the springtime. Hopkins’s choice of the American word “fall” rather than the British “autumn” is deliberate; it links the idea of autumnal decline or decay with the biblical Fall of man from grace. That primordial episode of loss initiated human mortality and suffering; in contrast, the life of a young child, as Hopkins suggests (and as so many poets have before him—particularly...