Spring and Fall
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 & by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep & 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
Thursday, July 3, 2008
When I was 18 I got to go to Germany with my friend Rachael, and we visited a place along the Rhine river called Rudesheim. It was covered with vineyards, and you could ride a tram that went sweeping up above the rows upon rows of vines to give you a view of the river and the forests along it. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in my life, and I remember just loving every second of it, and at the same time feeling this horrible ache inside, because every moment was bringing us closer to the time we'd have to leave. I felt like I was frantically trying to drink everything in: "remember this moment, the sunlight on your back and the crickets chirping"; "remember this, the river-breeze across your eyelids"; "remember this, the smell of heavy sunlit air." And still the moments were slipping away from me without me being able to record them.
Maybe that's why I love the line in T.S. Eliot's poem "New Hampshire" (it's over in the sidebar) that says "cover me over, light-in-leaves"---it reminds me of that feeling, of wanting to just wrap myself in the light and the beauty of it all, and stay inside that feeling forever. The idea of "light-in-leaves" brings back a shower of golden, leafy memories.
Here's another of my favorite poems on the subject (and this talks about the same feelings in relation to a loss of innocence and childhood):
Hopkins' poem is about the brevity of youth and innocence, treating one of the great themes of literature: the expulsion from Eden. And we can all relate to that, to the cold realization of our own inadequacies; to the sudden awareness of the disapppointments and sadnesses and failures of life. But what I love is that there is just a hint there of something beyond mortality: the golden leaves fall and die; we fall and die---but yet, spring comes again. There's hope and comfort there, if we can find it.
For me, writing, especially about a good memory or a happy time, serves both to recall the ache and the bittersweetness of past feelings, and to soothe them: that is, when you write about a moment, you become aware of its finality, but you also make it real anew, with your words. It's a way to wrap yourself, cover yourself, in those golden, "light-in-leaves" moments again. And maybe, hopefully, to find a way to make them permanent.