I spent a really blissful “sick day” last week at the Wheaton Park. It was one of those brilliant autumn afternoons and, I figured, the last day I could show off my new broad-brimmed sun hat I bought on sale in the city. Armed with only my hat, a tissuey scarf, and a collection of poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, I treaded through the botanical gardens with the elderly couples and new mothers before escaping to a bench on the little dark pond to read.
Hopkins was the perfect choice for the dying light of fall — he has this view of the world that is both very dark and very lovely. Drawn his whole life to acetic self-denial, his relationship with God seems to bring him more pain than anything else. His verse, written with what he calls “sprung rhythm,” indeed is wound up tight and just waiting to leap off the page. It betrays a rebellious energy he harnesses in meter, as though Hopkins himself is afraid of what his unleashed words can reveal.
My favorite Hopkins poem is “Spring and Fall,” about a little girl who feels sad in autumn. She feels the way I did as a child, drawn to inanimate objects and at times inexplicably and profoundly heartbroken for them: “Leaves, like things of man, you/with your fresh thoughts care for, can you?” He argues that “sorrow’s springs are the same,” namely our own mortality. Not a happy poem, but a pretty one that just begs to be read aloud:
|Spring and Fall
|to a young child|