Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as 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:
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.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

A common interpretation of this poem runs along the lines of the decline from spring to fall - Margaret is seen as unconsiously grieving for her own eventual decline from youth into old age and death. However, this interpretation ignores in my opinion the couplet which is central to the poem as well as its meaning: "Ah! as the heart grows older / It will come to such sights colder". Unless one considers this couplet pivotal to the meaning, it just sits there being aphorismic and rather patronising for no apparent reason.

It has been my opinion that what Hopkins, throug his Margaret, is mourning not the decline of the body but the decline of the mind - the dulling of youth's acute sensibilities, the loss of that instinctive and unrationalised connection to nature. The "blight" in the poem is not the blight of death but of indifference.

In Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "Spring and Fall," the elegiac tone, created through mournful diction and nature imagery, mirrors the poem's theme of the fleeting nature of youth.

The diction of the poem is exceedingly mournful. The words "colder," "wanwood," "weep," "will," "sorrow," "ghost," "blight," and "mourns" are the most evident. "Colder" implies a hostile environment, while "wanwood" describes something pale or dim, as if flickering out. "Mourn," "weep," and "sorrow," are all words directly related to mourning. The verb "will" is an inevitability-sometime in the future, this decay must occur. A "ghost" is a soul fleeting into death, ethereal and mournful. Finally, a "blight" is a plague or infestation or other terrible event capable of great destruction. All of these words combine to create the tone of a death song, a slow elegy.

The nature imagery of "Spring and Fall" begins with the title. "Spring and Fall" is a symbol; two real seasons, the former a time of new life, the latter a time of decay. Here they are symbolic of the times of a life. The metonymy of the leaves that Margaret cares for stands for all the things that decay in the fall. The speaker tells the child Margaret that there will come a time when "Though words of wanwood leafmeal lie"--though the whole world is falling into death-she will cry only for her own death and decay. She will come to realize that she is just like the trees in the fall, her leaves--her youth--falling away under the ravages of time. The final image of the poem, the metaphor "{Death} is the blight man was born for" emphasizes that all of life leads towards the terrible inevitability of death. Each of the above images contributes to the speaker's elegiac tone. The speaker sounds as if he is speaking to the dying, lamenting their lost youth--as indeed he is, speaking to Margaret, only a child but already on a terminal approach to death.

"Spring and Fall" is a poem about the fleeting nature of youth. Mr. Hopkins believes that even in the new creation of spring, death and decay are always approaching. They are the hunters and all mortal things are the prey. Inevitably, creation will become destruction, and although we may mourn the death of leaves in our youth, soon we will be eulogizing ourselves.

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