Spring and Fall To a Young Child
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.