Wednesday Words 11.11.15: Juxtaposition

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Spring and Fall

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 18441889

              to a young child

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 will 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.

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Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 18441889

Glory be to God for dappled things--
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
       And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                     Praise Him.

There is much I might say about both of these poems–and even more about them as a pair–but I am more interested in what you think. Let’s talk in the comments?

Poems via Academy of American Poets. Images mine.

9 thoughts on “Wednesday Words 11.11.15: Juxtaposition

  1. Marian says:

    The first poem is reminding me of a book I happened upon years ago, The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story Of Life For All Ages, by Leo Buscaglia. If I’m reading the poem correctly, the speaker is saying that Margaret will, with time, not be affected so strongly by the poignancy that comes with pondering the fleetingness of life, but will come to accept it. If this is the correct interpretation, I have to say that my experience getting older, so far, hasn’t dulled the sadness of this fact of life. I’ve always, even as a young child, had a strong sense that life was fleeting, and felt the urgency to make the most of life, and as I’ve gotten older, this feeling has increased, rather than decreased. But maybe I’m just not old enough to stop railing against it? My father-in-law had bypass surgery on Monday and my husband flew out there on Saturday to be with his parents (just in case…). He sent me a photo of his parents, taken just a few minutes before surgery. My MIL is holding my FIL’s arm and hand with both her hands, and the picture made me tear up. Even though they were optimistic about the outcome, they knew the risks. What does one think when one faces something like that at age 78? Is there peace (I’ve/we’ve had a good life together and all things must pass)? Or is there railing against it all (even now it’s too soon, I’ve had too little life, I want more)?

    I’m having difficulty figuring out the second poem. Is he saying there is beauty in ALL of it, in every stage of life, even at the end, when things are slow, sour and dim?

    I’m really enjoying these Wednesday Words, Rita. I love how these poems are making me think, and are replacing the “usual” chatter that goes on in my head 😉 .
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    • Rita says:

      I am with you, Marian–my feelings about things that have passed are only becoming stronger with time, not lesser. I think what Hopkins is saying in the first poem is that as Margaret gets older, she will experience greater loss, and then she will no longer cry over leaves–but that doesn’t mean the loss is any less. I think he’s saying that all loss is the same, because it is all loss of ourselves–“It is Margaret you mourn for.” And then in the second poem, he is extolling the beauty of dappled things, things that change. Of course, fall leaves are dappled, too. The second poem is so celebratory and accepting. I think that’s why I like these together. When I was young I was haunted by the first; like you, I think I had a sense early of loss, of the fleeting nature of all beautiful things. Now, I read them both together and I see them as two sides of the same coin. We mourn because life is beautiful, even as it changes and (sometimes) dies. Maybe more so because it does.

  2. Marian says:

    Yes … I think I see it now. In line 3 she’s mourning for “Leaves, like the things of man” … in other words, when she’s young, she’s mourning for small things, or things that really don’t signify. And then when she gets older, she will realize that while those things aren’t really important enough to mourn, they do represent those things which ARE significant enough to mourn.

    (And I WAS reading the second poem correctly! That makes the science major inside me very happy 😉 ).
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  3. Sarah says:

    Maybe this is splitting hairs, but I read the second poem as being less about changeable things than mixed things. Life being fundamentally a brindled, tabby sort of thing (I know he says the cow is”brinded” but I assume that is just a spelling variation). And, though we may wish it were more freckled than fair, that is precisely why (per the first poem) we mourn it.

    Easier to embrace the pied nature of life some days than others, though.
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    • Rita says:

      I don’t think that’s splitting hairs at all. And, yes–much easier some days than others. I wonder if we like new things because they aren’t changed or mixed? Now you have me thinking about old things, and why we like them. And new things (babies) and why we like them. Their skin is so smooth, unblemished, as are their lives. Funny how we both treasure the blemish (sometimes) yet mourn the passing of the seemingly perfect.

  4. Kate says:

    Poetry has always been hard for me. I like black and white, right and wrong and poetry is dense and prickly and often open to interpretation. I like to be RIGHT and it’s so hard to be right with poetry. Only defensible.

    While I was reading the first poem, I was thinking of a wise old gentleman talking to his granddaughter. It made me think how my children mourn the end of a season – when the lake has become too cold to swim in or there is no snow left to sled down. I thought of this grandpa reminding his granddaughter that there will be more snow, the lake will warm again, there will be more leaves. Warning her that as she gets older she will grieve over things more permanently lost – dreams, loves – the things that we give up as we age. So melancholy. Such a good reminder.
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    • Rita says:

      Your response reminds me so much of my daughter, the mathematician. She likes to be RIGHT, too. I always liked English and history classes because there was always more than one right answer. Yet, there were still good and bad answers, and I liked that, too. And defending–well, that’s the funnest part about it! (Yes, I said “funnest.” I know that’s not right and I don’t care! 😉

      For what it’s worth, I like your interpretation very much.

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