Spring And Fall: To A Young Child

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 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:
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.

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Comments (5)

Obviously, this poem is the description of the gunner of a bomber in combat, but there are things that many people miss or don't realize about it. I believe that the State refers not to the faceless entity that send soldiers off to war, but a State of being. This poem is about the existential experience of aerial combat, as expressed in a kind of birth in reverse. The ball turret, which hung down below the body of WWII bombers, was like kind of belly. This is why the poet calls the plane his mother. The giant metal mother sleeps on the tarmac, before takeoff, and the gunner enters his mother's womb and returns to an experience something like he did when he was in his human mother's womb before birth. But unlike the warm, safe womb that a baby lives in until birth, this womb is freezing cold, nightmarish, and deadly. Interestingly, as the gunner ascends into the nightmare, he feel that he is somehow loosed from the dream, of ordinary, waking life. Soldiers in combat often talk about the experience making them feel alive in a way that nothing else can. Being so close to death makes every moment of living somehow more real. Again, a fascinating comparison to being in the womb before birth, where the infant experiences nothing but the warmth and safety of being inside his mother's body, sheltered from sensing everything harmful, dangerous, and frightening. Finally, instead of being born, he suffers a gory, violent death when he is blown apart by flak. The reason that they wash him out of the turret with a steam hose is that his body has been literally blown to bits, which freeze to the inner surface of the icy turret. Not a pleasant image, but an unflinching vision and description of a reality that is something beyond the dream of life and its ordinary, pleasant, safe thoughts and images. This is truly one of the greatest and most evocative poems of all time. To tell a story like this one in five lines is a true stroke of genius.
Poetry, like all other true arts, must be met halfway by the reader's own intelligence and experience. The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner became my greatest tool in trying to impart the essence of modern American poetry to my high school students: powerful images; multi-level interpretations; and economy. Jarrell paints with just five lines not only the dream-like insanity and horror of war, but the dilemma of self sacrifice and the loss of human identity. And that's just the beginning. Add to it the unmistakable references: the womb as a safe, warm birth; sudden separation and ejection into the cold; vulnerability and fear in the face of a hostile environment and horrific threats; final biological/human degradation; and the resignation of mortal man devoured, finally, by the state. The interpretations and meanings are virtually limitless, given both the unique and universal sensibilities of humankind. The work is, at one time, a controversial poem that beckons us, and a blueprint that describes the very essence of poetry. Yet, the most frightening insight that looms above all others, is the sobering reflection of what must have raged within and tortured the author to even be able to conceive of such a work. Pity Randall Jarrell, honor Randall Jarrell, love and remember Randall Jarrell. Just five lines, fifty-two words.
Interesting how people see things that are important to them in virtually every poem. This poem is pretty straight forward though. War sucks.
I doubt very much that, while fighting in World War II, Randall Jarrell referenced abortion one bit. Your opinion, of course. And, by the way, a dilation and curettage vacuums out the uterus. Not washes.
Does anyone else notice the references to abortion in this poem? A fetus, hunched it its mothers belly, only to be destroyed and washed out with a hose.