How I first found this poem is lost to me –was it in one of my grandmother’s huge and heavy high school English anthologies?–but it stunned me. I remember laboriously copying it word by word, line by line, complete with the strange little marks I would later learn were scansion, into my diary.
What the poem was about I couldn’t have told you when I was a child, but I knew that the poet, dead long before I was born, had reached into the future and written it for me. In the same intuitive way I understood the made-up words wanwood and leafmeal, I knew the Margaret of the poem was me. The sorrow and longing that welled up from the first sentence to the last were in me then and they are in me still. At age nine this poem explained something deep and true and achingly beautiful about the world, something I already knew in my bones, and I knew it would be the poem of my life.
Spring and Fall, by Gerard Manley Hopkins
to a young child
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.
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