“Goldengroves Unleaving”

Spring and Fall To a Young ChildImage

In the poem “Spring and Fall” (from the Seagull Reader) Gerard Hopkins tells us the story of young Margaret who is distressed to realize the leaves on the trees are starting to fall, and thus the summer months are ending. Her “Golden Grove” is losing its luster and so she grieves its parting the way only a child would.

He compares the falling leaves to “the things of man” or in essence human being (pg 163). Margaret possesses the love for all things that only a child does, but which eventually fades as time goes on. Hopkins puts it: “As the heart grows older, it will come to such sights colder” (pg 163).  She seems so saddened to find that these leaves are falling off the trees, but is still too young to understand what is really going on. Her naivety will be replaced, however, someday when she will “weep and know why” (pg 163).

Yet the author is not just writing about the falling leaves, but rather the fall (which is strategically placed in the title) of man. I would stretch to say that the leaves themselves represent humans. Once high in the trees green and healthy they now crumple and decay on the ground. The poem seems not only distressed about the status of man at that moment, but also for dear Margaret’s future; which is expressed in the last line that reads “it is Margaret you mourn for”(pg 163). In other words, someday she will end up along the same path as the fallen leaves. Although she is high in the trees for now, as a child, someday she will start to grow older and fall as the leaves do. Perhaps this day is coming soon, since she is beginning to realize this process of the tree losing its leaves. At least, that is what is inferred.

The speaker of this poem seems very somber about the aspects of maturing which makes me thing that he may be someone much older than Margaret. I envisioned him as perhaps her grandfather playing with her outside at first, but then changed my mind when I realized he is not speaking to her in the loving way family would. He never mentions being sorry for her sadness, but instead speaks very “matter a factually”  about her assumed grim future.  I wonder, however, if it is really Margaret he is mourning for but rather himself. In this sense the story reminded me of “I’m a Mad Dog Biting Myself for Sympathy” because the speaker of the poem seems to be looking at Margaret the same way the character looks at the baby. Because their own life has been disappointing they make the assumption that this is simply a fact of life and everyone must end up on the same road. Even he admits he doesn’t know how Margaret is really feeling only that “what heart heard of, ghost guessed” (pg 162). This particular passage was a difficult one for me to understand because I was puzzled as to why the speaker refers to himself as a ghost. There are many assumption I could make over this. In one sense perhaps he is a ghost of his former self who was once alive with ignorance as a child but is now ghostly as he sees the truth or (possibly more likely) will he be reminiscent of a ghost in that these words he has spoken to Margaret will haunt her forever? I’d say that the speaker is a leaf at the end of its cycle, breaking to pieces on the ground.

I saw two ways to interpret this falling of man metaphor in the poem. In one condition it could be a play on the natural decay of man and its similarity to the decay of leaves, but on the other it could be the fall of man from grace. I think it is most likely a metaphor for both. The “un-leaving” process represents the way that man has become hardened or unmoving, and also the brief life cycle we are all a part of.


10 thoughts on ““Goldengroves Unleaving”

  1. I love this post! I really like your take of “the things of man” being a reference to the fall of man from grace. Are you referring to Adam’s fall–and thus to mankind’s fall? I definitely loved the ending lines “It is the blight man was born for, It is Margaret you mourn for.” I interpreted this as meaning that we were all born to die/ age, yet we yearn for youth and childhood. In response to the ” what heart heard of, ghost guessed”; do you think this could be interpreted as the ghost (dead) now understands what the living truly have? I truly can relate to this poem’s theme of life/death as I am getting older and see my daughter turning into a young lady; it is quite bittersweet.

    1. Hey Carrie! I was more referring to mans fall from grace in a sense of what we have become, but Adams fall from grace is brilliant! I might have to steal that for my paper. I had thought about the speaker being a ghost also but that couplet is a hard one to paraphrase because it seems like there are a million ways of interpreting it! I think that aging is something everyone struggles with at one point or another because we have such a fear of death. Which is part of what I think this poem is trying to say.

  2. The title of the poem is Spring and Fall, so if Spring is a young child, then Fall would be more in line with a grandparent (Winter being a great-grandparent on their last legs). Haven’t you ever had an older person reminiscing on how fast life goes by and telling you that everyone you know will be gone before you expect it. They don’t have to have a personal connection to you to do so, but it generally helps. Only someone who is familiar would feel the need to tell you to enjoy life and not hold so tight to those who die. I interpreted the last line as the speaker telling Margaret that when someone dies you are not helping them by mourning (because they are already dead). Instead you weep for yourself and for your loss.

    1. I liked your seasons metaphor, that is certainly a great way of looking at it. To me the way that he speaks to her just seems awfully insensitive for a grandparent…but thats just my take. Then again, I’ve never had an older person say those things to me. Your point is good though that when someone dies your sadness is selfish.

      1. I’m not sure it’s a matter of nice or insensitive. During this time period people were expected to grow up earlier than we do today. They were supposed to be practical and reserved. Perhaps Fall was just reminding Spring of this – telling her to stop acting like a child.

      2. Great conversation! The speaker *does* seem to address Margaret, but I’ve always interpreted it as a private musing, while watching Margaret, in the spirit of saying something under your breath to a child who is not yet ready to hear it.

  3. I, too, interpreted the last two lines as more of a sympathetic nod to Margaret. It seems the speaker has accepted their fate, but that Margaret has not. And after death, she will be the one left behind, feeling the pain and grief of the loss. “And yet you will weep and know why” is the speaker’s prediction that though Margaret doesn’t fully understand death now, once it happens, the experience will enlighten her.

    1. I could see that interpretation as well, for me I found it as more of a warning to Margaret about the realities of the world. To me when he says “when she grows older, she will come to such sites colder” its as if he’s saying she wont care as much because she’ll be corrupted by the world by then. When he uses the word “fresh” to describe her it made me think of her as innocent and not yet bruised by the realities of life.

      1. “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”

        The speaker is expressing a belief that the fundamental experience of humanity is loss. Margaret is just now realizing this. He finds it endearing that she is small and young enough to mourn the falling of leaves, but in the above-quoted passage he notes that as she grows older she will experience so much deeper losses — “such sights colder” — that, in time, she will not be able to spare even a sigh “though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie.” He’s saying that the sorrows to come are exponentially greater than what she feels in this early moment of human loss. Ultimately, she mourns for herself because loss will touch and define her life, as it (eventually) does for all.

  4. “In this sense the story reminded me of “I’m a Mad Dog Biting Myself for Sympathy” because the speaker of the poem seems to be looking at Margaret the same way the character looks at the baby. Because their own life has been disappointing they make the assumption that this is simply a fact of life and everyone must end up on the same road.” I love this connection! I like your insight that the narrator must be someone older. We so often assign our own judgements or ideologies onto others, most especially those that are younger than us.

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