Spring and Fall

The Mulberry Tree. Vincent van Gogh. 1889.


Spring and Fall

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1880


Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves, líke 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 wan wood leafmeal lie;

And yet you will weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sórrow’s spríngs are all the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What hearts heard of, ghost guessed:

It ís the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.


A Fine Picture—”I’ll tell you that we’re having some superb autumn days, and that I’m taking advantage of them,” Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in October 1889, and sent him a number of “studies” including The Mulberry Tree. Vincent was staying at the Saint Paul Asylum in Saint-Remy, following his estrangement from Ganguin and subsequent nervous breakdown. Like the mulberry tree growing on the rocky hillside, he created beauty in a hard place; his thick brushstrokes flame on the canvas in vivid blues and oranges. Vincent sent Theo more paintings that December, but wrote that The Mulberry Tree remained his favorite.

A Little Poetry—The autumnal fall of leaves is a reminder of man’s mortality. Little Margaret weeps, for, though she has no words for the thought, her heart aches with the recognition. In this poem “To a Young Child,” Hopkins used the Germanic “sprung” rhythm that counts only accented syllables, and used words of Germanic origin (with three exceptions). Two words—’wanwood and ‘leafmeal’—Hopkins created on a Germanic basis. The effect is strangely primal but beautiful.

The word ‘ghost‘ here is used to mean the living spirit.

A Little Music—Natalie Merchant beautifully sings Hopkin’s poem to orchestral accompaniment, on her album Leave Your Sleep. This was my introduction to “Spring and Fall.”  <http://www.nataliemerchant.com/l/leave-your-sleep/spring-and-fall-to-a-young-child>