Apr 10, 2014

National Poetry Month: "Spring and Fall: to a Young Child" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The 2014 National Poetry Month Blog Tour is hosted by Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit to celebrate poets and poetry in April. Let me share one of my favorite poems.

Spring and Fall
  by Gerard Manley Hopkins
              to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, like 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 will 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.

- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16074#sthash.GsA1Cneo.dpuf

My thoughts: I fell in love with this short poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins when our English teacher introduced it to us in our first year in college. A published poet herself, she read it with such clarity and conviction and feeling that I felt I was able to understand Margaret and feel just as she did!

Margaret the young child has seen the renewal of spring and is just now realizing what autumn means, when the leaves turn golden and fall - the end of spring and summer, a loss that to us symbolize the end of life or of innocence. Hopkins turns this into a moral or insight into human nature and predicts that Margaret, in her youth just now experiencing the sorrow of loss, will experience ever greater loss in the future, so that autumn and the changing of seasons will gradually cease to distress her.

What are your reactions to the poem and what do you take from it?
How do you respond to the rhythm and the rhyme of the lines?
Try reading it out loud for the full effect.

Born at Stratford, Essex, England, on July 28, 1844, Gerard Manley Hopkins is regarded as one the Victorian era's greatest poets. 

He was raised in a prosperous and artistic family. He attended Balliol College, Oxford, in 1863, where he studied Classics. In 1864, Hopkins first read John Henry Newman's Apologia pro via sua, which discussed the author's reasons for converting to Catholicism. Two years later, Newman himself received Hopkins into the Roman Catholic Church. Hopkins soon decided to become a priest himself, and in 1867 he entered a Jesuit novitiate near London. At that time, he vowed to "write no more...unless it were by the wish of my superiors." Hopkins burnt all of the poetry he had written to date and would not write poems again until 1875.

He spent nine years in training at various Jesuit houses throughout England. He was ordained in 1877 and for the next seven years carried his duties teaching and preaching in London, Oxford, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Stonyhurst. In 1875, Hopkins began to write again after a German ship, the Deutschland, was wrecked during a storm at the mouth of the Thames River. Many of the passengers, including five Franciscan nuns, died. Although conventional in theme, Hopkins poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland" introduced what Hopkins called "sprung rhythm." By not limiting the number of "slack" or unaccented syllables, Hopkins allowed for more flexibility in his lines and created new acoustic possibilities. In 1884, he became a professor of Greek at the Royal University College in Dublin. He died five years later from typhoid fever.

 Although his poems were never published during his lifetime, his friend poet Robert Bridges edited a volume of Hopkins' Poems that first appeared in 1918. In addition to developing new rhythmic effects, Hopkins was also very interested in ways of rejuvenating poetic language. He regularly placed familiar words into new and surprising contexts. He also often employed compound and unusual word combinations. As he wrote to in a letter to Bridges, "No doubt, my poetry errs on the side of oddness…" Twentieth century poets such as W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and Charles Wright have enthusiastically turned to his work for its inventiveness and rich aural patterning. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/284#sthash.JeZaYNwR.dpuf


  1. Wonderful choice of poem, Harvee! I am not too familiar with Hopkins, so thanks for this post.

  2. This is a great poem.

    It never ceases to amaze me how poetry can convey emotions and ideas in way that are just not the same in prose. In particular this poem illustrates that.

  3. I do love the wonder that children see in everything around us...and this poem seems to call attention to that as well as attention to the loss of that awe as we age. Great post.

  4. Thanks for sharing Spring and Fall and your description. It is amazing how a short poem can convey so much.

  5. There's another Hopkins poem that I really like: Pied Beauty (http://www.bartleby.com/122/13.html). Do you know that one?

    1. He has several poems that are wonderful in their imagery and inventiveness. This is one of them!

  6. I have always loved his poetry. The poem you have chosen is wonderful. The human emotions and nature are closely connected and almost inseparable. That has been depicted here so well....

  7. I'm not familiar with this poem, but loved it, so will check out his other work.

  8. I also am not familiar with this poem. I am a little familiar with the poet. I will reread this one. Liked it at the first reading.

  9. Thanks for sharing this one Harvee! I hadn't heard of this poet before. I like this one.

  10. I used to like asking students to read the line "what heart heard of, ghost guessed" out loud, and then talk about how the difficulty of saying it echoes the difficulty of thinking it.
    Also, I think of "goldengrove unleaving" every fall. There's always that one stand of trees...

  11. New to me and I thank you.

    Hope you will stop by Readerbuzz and take a look at my contribution to Poetry Month, The Official Readerbuzz Guide to All Things Children Poetry-ish.


I appreciate your comments and thoughts...

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