LYRIC COMPANION Gerard Manly Hopkins “Spring and Fall: to a young child”

Margaret, are you grieving / Over Goldengrove unleaving? / Leaves, like the things of man, you / With your fresh thought care for, can you? / Ah, as the heart grows older / It will come to such sights colder / Bye and bye, nor spare a sigh / Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie, / And yet you will weep and know why. / Now no matter, child, the name: / Sorrow’s springs are the same. / Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed, / what HEART HEARD of, GHOST GUESSED. / It is the blight man was born for, / It is Margaret you mourn for.

[the CAPS are my unhappy solution to the problem of showing the author’s stress marks.]

from THE MAJOR WORKS, Edited by Catherine Phillips (Oxford)

FRAME OF REFERENCE Deeper than the self-division is the fork in the soul as a between. Is the issue just between the soul and itself, or the soul and what is more than itself? The second, since the deeper we explore the immanent resources of self- creation, the more the wonder grows concerning a secret companioning power that is not one’s own. In the darkness of the intimacy, and in coming to ourselves, we come to something more than ourselves. This is not quite Aristotle’s immanent universal — it is more intimate than that. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, p. 75.

It is a cause of great melancholy to think that our schools cannot teach this popular lyric. Cannot because common literacy has fallen so low that teacher and student would not know what to make of it. Of course there may be exceptions, but the rule can’t be denied.

It is a great companion on life’s way between birth, selving, and death. Is it more complicated than it needs to be? Could we do with a paraphrase and teach THAT?

It is a particularly intense version of the lyric narrative, from outside to inside, lower to higher (the intimate universal). Because of its fidelity to the universal equivocities of language, its reference to mutability involves and rightly so the self in its selving. Spring AND fall.

As the FRAME OF REFERENCE suggests, the “fork in the soul” makes the narrative inevitable. Hopkins spoke to the human condition, and, to paraphrase Hill paraphrasing Bradley, gets within the judgment the condition of the judgment, the judgment being the cause of all these tears.

Hopkins is a great poet of selvings large and small. Readers of all religious persuasions or none respond to his care regarding the self’s entanglement with the self’s others. From the pun on “unleaving” to the end, the lyric follows the tortuous path of time toward death and self-understanding.

Is the end too reductive? In a phrase, “the blight man was born for“ is one way to put it. I offer Desmond’s “secret companioning power” as a way to open the all important conversation about selving. Discovering one’s own difference may be as unsettling as discovering whatever Hopkins wants us to believe Margaret has discovered. His vagueness about that certainly provides openings for conversation.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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