In writing a summary of Hopkins's "Spring and Fall," examine observations that you thought were particularly profound?  What insights were surprising?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In developing a summary of Hopkins's poem, profound observations reveal themselves.  The speaker of the poem, presumably Hopkins, is interacting with a young child, Margaret, who is crying because of the shedding of the leaves. This rite of autumn strikes the child as sad, something that Hopkins describes as "grieving over Goldengrove unleavening."  Hopkins points out that at this moment in Margaret's life, such events cause her to feel pain.  However, such a condition is going to change over time:  "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."  Hopkins suggests that Margaret's change over time will move from a mourning of the specific to a more universal condition of sadness and pain:  "It is the blight man was born for,/ It is Margaret you mourn for." The poem is one where Margaret is forced to confront her own mortality.  Hopkins suggests that even at the youngest of ages, such an experience causes pain that moves the individual to understand the universal condition of hurt intrinsic to what it means to be human.

Hopkins's idea of addressing this poem "to a young child" is particularly striking.  One distinctly profound observation that Hopkins makes is that the struggle of human consciousness reveals itself in our childhood moments. Hopkins merges the experience of the child with the larger context of the human predicament.  He is able to take a child's experience and merge it into a condition that displays the pain and frustration of being a human being. Like Margaret, we are born into a world where we find love and experience that which gives us pleasure.  Like Margaret, we eventually confront the realization that such experiences are transient and not permanent.  Finally, like Margaret, we mourn for our own condition of being, our own reality in which pain is the only constant.  Hopkins does not embrace the idea that childhood is a permanent state of blissful happiness.  Rather, Hopkins shows childhood to be a smaller version of the human experience that underscores the world and our place in it.  This is profound in how it speaks to the "spring and fall" of the human experience, amounting to a study of life and death.

Another profound observation that Hopkins makes is the connection between the natural world and that of human being.  Hopkins sees the pain inherent to the life cycle present in both.  Human beings can learn much from the natural world.  The demonstration of life and death is something paralleled in the human experience. To understand and acknowledge this is profound.  It is for this reason that when Margaret weeps for herself at the end of poem, it is an understanding that he world is no different than the leaves of the trees for whom she initially weeps.  The profundity of what it means to be human is reflective of the natural world, showing that despite the trappings of mortality, we are no different than any other element that lives and dies in nature.

In terms of surprise in the insights offered, the conclusion of the poem reveals the surprise in Margaret.  From a position of innocence and connection to the world, Hopkins shows human growth both isolates the individual from the world around them, and yet also binds them to it.  Margaret's heart becomes "colder" as time passes.  Yet, its emotional frigidity is the result of how Margaret's own awareness of mortality causes inescapable pain and hurt.  In this way, she has become separated from the world, but inextricably linked to the painful conditions within it.  To see this pivot by the end of the poem is a surprising one, and reflective of true insight that Hopkins showcases.

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