Study Guide to Spring and Fall

Study Guide to Spring and Fall

One of Hopkins’s most beautiul and beloved poems, “Spring and Fall” was written in September of 1880. “Goldengrove” is not a real place but rather a coinage to represent the beauty of autumn: picture a grove of golden-leaved maple trees, for example, like the one in the photo accompanying the poem (l. 2). Yet little Margaret is sad because the trees are “unleaving” and their beauties soon will be gone (l. 2). The wiser (and even sadder?) older person who speaks (to himself?) in this poem knows the true source of Margaret’s pain—it is the human condition. “Spring and Fall” is done mostly in couplets, which gives it a nursery-rhyme sort of quality. But the themes of the poem are severe, melancholy, and timeless. The common interpretation of the poem is that by mourning falling leaves Margaret mourns her own mortality even before she can understand or say it (“Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed / What heart heard of, ghost guessed” (ll. 12-13). Hopkins as poet also muses on mortality, including his own. The beauty of the poem is its mixing of thematic heaviness and gorgeous linguistic invention.

Here are some things to think about regarding this poem:

  • If the poem takes a “turn” at line 9, how would you characterize that turn? How does the triplet (the three rhymed lines ending in “sigh,” “lie,” and “why”) affect the way that turn works (ll. 7-9)?
  • Why are there so many questions in the poem?
  • We say that the poem is about “the human condition,” about “the blight man was born for (l. 17).” But what in your view and in your words is “the human condition” or “the blight man was born for”?

For this poem you might want to be familiar with the following terms from the Hopkins Terminology:
alliteration | assonance | coinages | inscape | parallelism | sprung rhythm

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