Spring and Fall: by G. M. Hopkins - Summary & Analysis

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Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás 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 wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.


      Spring and Fall was written on September 7, 1880 at Rose Hill, Lydiate, a few miles outside Liverpool. The poem is dedicated to a child. Here Hopkins returns to the theme of transient innocence. The poet addresses the child in adult-measured tones about what later life must invariably bring; or what is the inevitability in our life.

      The poem is one of Hopkins’s most charming and popular lyric. Hopkins
had a particular child in mind, and for that the poem is of unusual simplicity.


      In the first part of the poem, the poet asks a young girl Margaret if she, with her young and inexperienced mind, feels really sorry for the falling leaves. During autumn the leaves are falling in a wood called ‘Goldengrove’, or the poet asks the girl if she with her fresh or inexperienced mind really feels upset by falling leaves and by similar happenings in the human world. The poet then tells the girl that as a human being grows older and older he feels less and less grieved by such rights as the falling of leaves. A time comes when the human mind is totally collapsed to feel or have a sigh at the loss of anything. As a human being grows older and as his experience of the things, of man gathers, he becomes increasingly convinced that everything is perishable. Then the poet proceeds to say that the little girl will then be weeping for herself just as she really is now. The poet then says that with a colder heart a cleaner mind will come, which will help her to identify her own fate or she will be aware of the cause of her sorrow. The poet means to say whatever the name of a particular sorrow, its origin or source is the same; i.e. the concept of depth, nothing can be saved from the unavoidable grasp of time. The girl can neither express her grief in a suitable language or words nor she has any real understanding of it. She can feel or realize the reason of her sorrow partially. The poet ultimately says that man was awarded a penalty or punishment due to his original sin. The little girl Margaret when weeps over the falling of leaves, she is actually weeping over human mortality or by implication mourning for her own sorrow or ultimate fate.


Line 1: Margaret: The name Margaret has symbolic overtones. It has two fold meaning: Margaret is derived from the Latin word Margarita which means ‘pearl’; it also means ‘daisy’.

Grieving: weeping.

Goldengrove: wood or grove described as “Goldengrove” because leaves of trees are golden in autumn. The leaves of trees fall in the season of Autumn.

Unleaving: Shedding the leaves. The leaves of trees in the wood are falling because of autumn.

Lines 2-4: Leaves, like the things.....can you?: The poet in this expression compares the human lives with the leaves. As the leaves fall in the autumn season so also the lives of human being; or it may be said as leaves are falling in the wood similarly things are happening in the human world.

The poet asks the girl a question; he asks if it is possible for the girl at the early age to understand the ‘thing of man’ and the things of Nature? The poet is sure that obviously the girl does not understand these things at the tender age. The freshness of girl’s thoughts are in direct opposition to the poet’s mature and experienced heart.

The poet means to say that the things that lie at the bottom of the human as well as the natural world is beyond the perception of the girl at this early age.

Lines 5-6: As the heart grows older / It will come to such sights colder: Human heart feels less moved by such sights as the falling of leaves as it grows older and acquires more experiences; that is she will feel less moved by such sights as the falling of leaves.

Line 7: Nor spare be a sigh: The girl will feel no regret at the falling of leaves and similar other phenomenal or any other experience of sorrow.

Line 8: wanwood: This is an example of Hopkins’s coining of words. This word is a combination of two words “wan” and “wood”, “wan” means pale and bloodless. Leafmeal: This word is another example of coining. Hopkins has coined this word on the analogy of piecemeal. The expression means that leaves fall one by one and then rot into dry fragments.

Line 9: And yet you will weep and know why: The child while weeping is really mourning for human mortality. This line can be interpreted in this way that Margaret at the moment, when Hopkins is speaking to her, insists upon weeping and knows the cause.

Line 10: Now no matter, child the name: The poet in this expression means to say that the name of a particular sorrow does not matter.

Line 11: Sorrows springs are the same: The root cause or the real cause of mortality is the same; it is mortality.

Lines 12-13: Nor mouth had, nor mind, expressed / What heart heard of, ghost guessed: “Mouth” means “words” and “mind” means “understanding”. “Ghost” is here used to mean a man’s spirit or soul. The poet means that the little girl has no suitable words for, nor a real understanding of, her own grief. But her spirit and heart has guessed the cause of her grief. Though the girl had definite words or thoughts for what she felt but her heart realized the truth and her spiritual awareness perceived that truth intuitively.

Line 14: It is the blight man was burn for: “Blight” here refers to original sin or curse of man. The word means disobedience to God. Man was given penalty of death for this sin.

Line 15: It is Margaret you mourn for: Margaret mourns for human mortality which implies her own.


      Hopkins’s poem Spring and Fall is a magnificent lyric which provokes a deep thought or philosophy about human life. At the bottom of the poem lies a contrast between innocence and experience, between age and youth. The young girl becomes a symbol of spring who represents something of the innocent mind and “Mayday in girl and boy”. The word ‘fall” in this poem has got a very deep and significant meaning. The word has been explained by critics as the fall of mankind or degradation. All the things in this world is inevitable to be perished. Superficially the word ‘fall’ implies the fall of leaves in the season of Autumn. The poet compares this fall of leaves with that of the fall of human being; death is inevitable and beauty and youth are to be faded away at the course of time. Human beings are nothing but a part of Nature and bound by the same law of Nature. To quote Mackenzie: She certainly seems to be in harmony with Nature, though the perpetual Spring which earth’s sweet being enjoyed in Eden has become merely seasonal, the Fall of man having been accompanied by the years fall which strips trees bare.

      The movement of the poem is from joy to sadness, from the freshness of youth to the sadness of old age, from Spring to Autumn.

      In the opening couplet, we are presented with the basic situation out of which the poem arises and in which it remains: the confrontation between Margaret grieving and “Goldengrove unleaving”. The child with her “fresh thoughts” and the association of her name with pearls and daisies may be said to represent the spring of lift. The “unleaving” trees of ‘Goldengrove’ may be seen as representing the year’s fall (or autumn). Hence the title. But there is a deeper significance of the title. The poet expresses his surprise and admiration at the philosophical manner in which the child can care for the fallen leaves.

      The poet with a deep grief reveals the idea that it is only the young in heart who weep over the fallen leaves of autumn; as the heart grows older, it becomes accustomed to such sights and observes them coldly without feeling, “Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie”. Yet even if the little growing up girl develops a colder heart she will have ample cause to lament her human condition. Then, she will know why she is weeping. The causes of sorrow though apparently different for children and for adults are all fundamentally the same; i.e. the original separation of creatures from their creator, which underlies all human miseries. The expression Spring and Fall has the deeper, theological significance of the title. The spring is a tragedy of human life and human origin that no mind ever aptly conceived or has appropriately expressed through the instinctive heart or the inmost spirit of man does recognize it. Such then is the blight of original sin in which man is born into this World, and for which he has to pay the penalty. On this pessimistic note Hopkins closes his poem. 

      To quote a critic, the poem is one of Hopkins’s “most charming and deservedly popular, yet one of his saddest and most pessimistic poems”.

      The reason behind this sad and pessimistic mood of the poem is that Hopkins was at that time living at Liverpool which he thought to be “of all places the most museless, a most miserable and unhappy spot”. In a letter to Bridges, he spoke of the poem as “a little piece composed since I began this letter, not founded on any real incident. I am not well satisfied with it”.

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