Spring and Fall Introduction

Spring and Fall is an intense love poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It narrates an incident, it is a tragic meditative poem, imagining a philosopher as a speaker in discussion with a girl named Margaret. We also discover in the poem character, dialogue, setting, and plot. The poem deals with the fact of human life well established by its title’ Spring and Fall.’ The speaker in the poem discusses a girl, Margaret, who weeps at the falling of tree leaves. Speaker as a philosopher asks Margaret not to grieve about unleaving the golden grove.

Spring and Fall is of the Hopkins’ modern poems about the philosophical definition of human life. His such other poems are ‘Felix Randal’, ‘The Bugler’s First Communion’, ‘The Candle Indoors’, ‘The Handsome Heart’ and ‘Brothers.’ These poems reveal Hopkins’ Wordsworthian sympathy towards Nature and all living creatures, old and young, proud and wretched alike. They recall to our minds Wordsworth’s Leech-gatherer, Old Cumberland
Beggar and Michael. Felix Randal was only a farrier, but his death is of great significance to Hopkins. ‘Harry the Ploughman’ is another mute Karmayogin whose work, being the body’s offering to God, is akin to the prayer. The Bugler also, humble for all his red-coated glory, kneels at the altar rail. ‘Brothers’, based on a real incident, deals with Harry, a reserved, sensitive boy and his impulsive younger brother John. In ‘Spring and Fall: to a young child’, Hopkins delicately unfolds a child’s growing sensibility. In ‘The Candle Indoors’, the salt of Henry’s tears is the very salt of Christ, whereby men become ‘the salt of the earth’.

In ‘Spring and Fall’, written at Lancashire, in 1880, Hopkins tells us that youth has an intuitive, almost innate knowledge of the sad transiency of all things due to the curse of Adam’s original sin. Remarkably compressed and condensed, the poem opens with a tender and gentle address by a father-confessor to an imaginary child.

In the Title ‘Spring and Fall’ – Spring suggests the Garden of Eden in the Bible.

(Margaret, the young child, also represents Spring). Fall suggests Adam’s fall, the penalty of Adam, for eating the forbidden fruit. Fall also suggests the season of Autumn, when leaves ripen, become pale and ultimately fall. This is one of the few poems of Hopkins which is free from doctrinal elements explicitly stated. ‘Spring’ in the title suggests both the season of growth and the Garden of Eden (of Adam and Eve in The Bible); ‘Fall’ similarly suggests Autumn, when the leaves fall, as well as the Fall of Adam, the penalty of Adam. Remarkably compressed and condensed, the poem opens with a tender address to a child by a kindly father-confessor. The child Margaret is imaginary only; ‘Goldengrove’ may also refer to an actual village; it means the golden trees in a grove or garden, which in the Autumn season, stand bare, leafless. Are you, Margaret, my young child, sorry for it?” Leaves like the things of man’ suggests the Biblical assertion in Isiah, ‘And we all do fade as the leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

Spring and Fall: Annotations

Line 1. Margaret – no real Margaret is intended; any child.

Line 2. Goldengrove – the golden trees in a grove. There is ‘Goldengrove Farm’ in North Wales. Unleaving – leaves falling away getting leafless.

Line 3. Leaves – refer to The Bible (Isiah): and we all do fade as the leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away’. Like the things of man – mortality is a part of all created things.

Line 4. Fresh thoughts – the poet points out a child’s growing sensibility. Young Margaret grieves because the trees in the grove are getting leafless and beauty is fading away.

Line 5 -6. The heart grows older …. Colder – one day, later, when you lose your sensibility. Line 7. Nor spare a sigh – Margaret, you will be unmoved.

Line 8. Wanwood – a very effective coinage; the bitterness of wormwood is suggested. ‘Wan’ gives the combined meaning of dark, gloomy, deficient, pale, bloodless (note it, as an example for ‘inscape’). Leafmeal piecemeal; leaf by leaf; like ‘inchmeal’, ‘limbmeal’, in Shakespeare. Wanwood leafmeal lie – one by one, the leaves fall, and then rot into mealy fragments.

Line 9. You will weep – note this as an example for the ambiguities in Hopkins. This can mean : (1) insist upon weeping, now or later, (2) shall weep in the future. And know – another ambiguity : (1) you insist upon knowing, (2) you shall know. You will weep and know – a third variation, ‘listen, and I shall tell you why you weep’. Know – a third variation ‘listen, and I shall tell you why you weep’.

Why – because of the blight of the original sin of Adam.

Line 10. The name – of Adam, his sin and fall and the curse source.

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Line 11. Sorrow’s……. the same – all sorrows have virtually one source.

Line 12. Mouth… mind – of Margaret or somebody else’s.

Line 12-13. Nor mouth ….. guessed – neither your mouth nor even your mind has expressed what your heart must have known and your spirit must have guessed.

Line 13. What heart heard of – mortality. Ghost – archaic usage: spirit (of the living). It stands for both mortality and grave.

Line 14. The blight – the curse of decay and death.

Line 15. You mourn for – the inevitability of decay and death of all created things, the result of the original sin, the disobedience of Adam and the resultant punishment.

Model Explanations

(i) Margaret, are you grieving….. care for, can you?

These lines have been taken from the poem Spring and Fall written by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Victorian poet, who remained almost unknown to the poetry reading public during his lifetime. He was first published by Robert Bridges, and since then he has been the most potent influence on modern poetry. This poem was written by Hopkins in 1880. This poem is remarkably condensed and compressed. The poem opens with a tender and gentle address by a father-confessor to an imaginary child.

This is one of the few poems of Hopkins in which the doctrinal viewpoint does not dominate. ‘Spring’ in the title of the poem suggests, both the season of spring during which nature takes on a new look and the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve lived so blissfully before their transgression. ‘Fall’ in the title similarly suggests two things: the autumn season, when the leaves fall, and the Fall of Adam, the penalty which he got for his transgression.

The child Margaret of the opening statement of the poem is an imaginary child. Likewise, ‘Goldengrove’ is no actual place, although the reference to Byzantium where there were golden trees may be made. The poet begins by giving a picture of autumn season when leaves begin to fall from trees. The poet asks Margaret if she is full of sorrow because leaves in the Goldengrove are falling. The poet asks her the reason for weeping. Then he asks her whether she is so upset because the leaves in the grove are falling or whether she is weeping for similar mortality in human world. Here leaves like the things/humans suggest the Biblical assertion in Issiah, ‘And we all do fade as the leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away”. The poet asks the child whether she, in all her simplicity, is grieving over the trees in the grove getting leafless and their beauty fading away. The father asks the child not to be so sensitive because as she matures she will know the facts of life and hence of decay and drabness of things in the autumn season.

(ii) Nor mouth had….. you mourn for

These lines have been taken from the poem ‘Spring and Fall’ written by Gerard Manley Hopkins. In this poem, the title suggests the coming and going of seasons. The poet emphasizes the sad transiency of all things due to the curse of Adam’s original sin. This poem is free from any doctrinal content. It has been a favourite with anthology collectors. This poem expresses the idea of ‘sad mortality’ of man as well as nature. The child Margaret (who weeps because she finds leaves falling in the Goldengrove) does not know that she too is mortal and subject to decay like the autumnal leaves.

In these concluding lines of the poem, the poet speaks about the little girl Margaret who has no suitable words, nor real understanding of her own grief. She does not know that like the leaves she is also liable to decay. Her heart half knows and her heart has half guessed the cause of her grief. But she has no definite words through which she could express the thoughts that come to her mind. Still, her heart has sensed the truth almost intuitively.

But it must be remembered that the poem does not end on a note of admonition to Margaret. It is on a note of sympathy, Wordsworthian sympathy, that the poem ends. In this poem, Hopkins expresses with poignant regret the fact of decay and mortality with great tenderness and pathos. In the words of Thornton, “The series of balances and comparisons in the poem give it a calm persuasive articulation, and the consciousness of all that is involved in ‘knowledge’ and ‘fall’ gives this apparently slight poem a great deal of weight”.

Critical Appreciation

Sring and Fall’ is one of Hopkins’ most popular poems. It is also one of his sad poems. This poem was written by Hopkins in the spring of 1880. It was written by Hopkins when he was struggling with great personal depression. Here we find him overworked and worried. Then he was living in Liverpool which for him was “the most museless, a most unhappy and miserable spot”. About this poem, he wrote to his friend Robert Bridges, “(it is) a little piece composed since I began this letter, not founded on any real incident. I am not well satisfied with it”. Still, it remains a poem of great lyrical intensity and passion in which technical innovations also abound. The poem expresses the idea of sad mortality of man and nature alike. The child Margaret who weeps because of the golden leaves falling in autumn really mourns, though she does not yet know it, her own mortality.

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The poem concerns human mortality. It is a kind of lamentation which the poet makes because of the Fall of man. In the beginning, man lived in perfect innocence and bliss in the Garden of Paradise, but now after the disobedience of God, he has been made to decay and death. In this connection, the use of the coined word “Goldengrove” in the second line of the poem is greatly suggestive. To some it is a simple and rather gratuitous invention; they consider it to be merely a description of trees, the leaves of which have turned red and yellow, or “gold”. The unleaving of the Goldengrove, however, gains wider implication when we consider it with reference to the Garden of Paradise. The leaves that are falling, we are told are “like the things of man” (line 3). So Goldengrove may also stand for “golden days of youth”, the springtime of life. Thus the two aspects – the seasons of the year and chronological stages of man’s life, get united in this one word. Then, the capitalization of the word “Goldengrove” alerts us to other suggestions in the poem “worlds of wanwood”, “ghost guessed”, and “the blight man was born for”. The words – “world”, “ghost” and “blight” – give us an invitation to read the poem in the context of the Garden of Eden for which “Goldengrove” is a happy coinage.

From the ninth line onwards we find a change in the thought of the poem. Here he tells us about the cause of Margaret’s grieving; Nor mouth had, no nor mind expressed.

What heart heard of, ghost guessed :

It is Margaret you mourn for.

Now we are told about the cause of why death and decay have come into the world. Thus we come across a double symbolism in the poem. Fall refers to autumn as well as man’s fall from grace. And Spring stands for the fountainhead of sorrow (the Original Sin) and the spring of tears. Thus, this poem expresses Hopkins’ conviction that all sorrow springs from one cause – mortality, deriving from sin, and this is so, whether we are conscious of it or not. Margaret, now a mere child, will grow soon, and like Hopkins come to know of this great truth.

The poem is a direct address to the girl, Margaret, and there is no scene-setting worth the name. The poem is written objectively. But we can feel that this is rather away from the truth. The poem is a projection of the poet’s self in the form of Margaret. And the generalization of the human condition may also be read as the consciousness of the poet’s own position. In Margaret, he recognizes his own youth, and the distance he has traveled from it. Natural beauty, instead of being a revelation of God, is increasingly seen as a reminder of the shortness of his own life and his own mortal nature.

Hopkins has garnered the common resources of language and invented new words by extending the common process of its development and growth (shifting parts of speech, compounding new words from old elements). In the coinage of new words, Hopkins has used old elements into new entities. In this poem, he has twice coined two new words in a single line. In the second line, he has coined “Goldengrove” and “unleaving”, and inline eight “wanwood” and “leafmeal”. The happy choice of the coinage of Goldengrove has already been explained. As regards “unleaving”- it is composed of a noun “leaf” used as a verb with a negative prefix “un” to mean “leaving leaves”. The cause of misunderstanding is that many people consider it a compound of “leave” used as verb with the compound “un”.

The other line that contains two coined words is line eight. “Wanwood” is a compound of two words – “wood” and “wan”. And the woods are pale because the trees have shed their leaves and so they have become “wan”, that is pale. “Leafmeal”d seems ambiguous but this ambiguity is soon removed. Here we have to remember that there is a world in English, “piecemeal” which means “piece by piece”. Likewise, leafmeal means “leaf by leaf”. This line thus may be read: “though huge areas of dark, colourless groves have dropped their leaves on the ground, one by one to decay, becoming a mass of mealy matter”.

Terms used for Understanding Hopkins’ Poetry

The section discusses the terms Inscape, Instress and Sprung Rhythm, central to the poetry of Hopkins:-

(a) Inscape: We talk of olive trees. We generalize. But Hopkins treated each olive tree as an individual item. When you read his ‘The Windhover’, you find the flight of the Windohover expressing the whole personality of the bird. That is ‘inscape’ for Hopkins (and should be, for you). Hopkins wrote, “I have no other word for that which takes the mind or eye in a bold hand”. So he coined a new word ‘Inscape’. He used it to designate the beauty of Things. ‘Inscape’ is applied to some particular thing of beauty which is distinctive and patterned. It is the individual quality of an object as revealed in its characteristic action which reveals the inner form of it. Inscape is an effect to translate this into words. Verse is inscape of the spoken sound. Poetry is the only speech employed to carry the ‘inscape’ of speech. Hopkins adds: “It is the virtue of Inscape to be distinctive and it is the virtue of distinctiveness to be queer. ‘Inscape’ is the very soul of art”.

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Verbal inscape is a pattern of design in words. When words are used to suggest the inscape by means of a sound pattern we get verbal inscape. For example, (1) ‘earliest stars, earl stars’, (2) ‘dapple – drawn dawn’.

(b) Instress : Inscape is the individuating quality. The reader’s response to the inscape may be called ‘instress’. It is the observer’s response to the object of observation. It is ‘stress’ emphasized, ‘stress’ felt inside, seen through the inner self. It is in order to produce this effect that the poet creates the inscape of the object. The poet finds adequate words to project the inscape which the object has, is such a way that the desired instress is produced. Hopkins tries to capture the flight of the Windhover in words and his apprehension of the characteristic activity of the bird, passed on to the readers, is called instress. It is the sensation of the ‘inscape’ – (W.H. Gardner). Hopkins has nowhere specifically defined ‘instress’.

(c) Sprung Rhythm: A term used by Hopkins to denote the method by which his verse is to be scanned. In his time, most English verse was written in Running Rhythm, that is, metres with regular stresses in the line. Hopkins wished to free English verse from this rhythm, so as to bring verse into closer accord with common speech, to emancipate rhythm from linear unit, and to achieve a freer range of emphasis. It is a rhythm not counted by syllables and regular feet but by stresses (stress being the emphasis of the voice upon a word or syllable). If you imagine a line divided into feet, then one syllable would be stressed in each foot, but that syllable can either stand-alone or be accompanied by a number of unstressed syllables (usually not more than four). As stresses, not syllables, make up the line, it may vary considerably in length. To put indifferently, in Sprung Rhythm, the number of stresses in each line is regular, but they do not occur at regular intervals, nor do the lines have a uniform number of syllables. The rhythm also drives through the stanza and is not basically linear. Consider these lines from ‘The Wreck’.

‘Thou hast bound bones and veins in me fastened me flesh,

And after it almost unmade, what with dread’.

Assessment Questions

(a) Answer to the following questions should not exceed 20 words each.

Q. What do the words ‘Spring’ and ‘Fall’ suggest in the title of the poem ‘Spring and Fall’?
Ans. ‘Spring’ in the title suggests both the season of growth and the Garden of Eden; Fall similarly suggests Autumn and the Fall of Adam.

Q. What does the word ‘golden grove’ mean in ‘Spring and Fall’?
Ans. ‘Goldengrove’ means the golden trees in a grove or garden. It may also refer to an actual village.

Q. Who is Margaret?

Ans. Margaret refers to an imaginary child to whom the poem ‘Spring and Fall’ is addressed.

Q. By whom were Hopkins’ poems first published?

Ans. Robert Bridges was the first to publish Hopkins’ poems.

Q. What does the poem ‘Spring and Fall’ express?

Ans. The poem expresses the sad mortality of Man as well as nature.

(b) Answer the following question in 500 words each :

Q. Critically appreciate the poem ‘Spring and Fall’.
Answer: See the Critical Appreciation of the poem.

Let Us Sum Up

In this post, we have discussed in detail Hopkins’ beautiful poem ‘Spring and Fall’. The poem expresses Hopkins’ intense love for common humanity. The post also contains a brief discussion on the terms Inscape, Instress and Sprung Rhythm, vital to the understanding of Hopkins’ poetry.

Review Questions

1. Comment on the confessional aspect of Hopkins poems.

2. Comment on the uniqueness of Hopkins poetry.

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