Friday, 27 November 2009

Goldengrove unleaving

A couple of weeks ago, we were eating our traditional Sunday lunch of macaroni and cheese (from scratch, mind, okay, not the noodles), and the Resident Fan Boy was plotting his final attack on the leaves in the front yard, it being the final week for the city to pick up the bags of garden refuse. He gets excited about things like that which is rather endearing.

"It's like that poem about 'Goldengrove unleaving'," he rhapsodized. I gave him an incredulous look.

"It is Margaret you mourn for?"
"That's right; it's about the leaves falling, and about being reminded of death."
"But Goldengrove is a man, isn't he? And Margaret is weeping over him, but she's really mourning for herself..."
"No, it's about the leaves falling..."

So out came the Norton's Anthology and this time and this time only, the Honour History major trumped the English Literature major. The poem, by Gerald Manley Hopkins, is actually entitled Spring and Fall: to a young child. The Resident Fan Boy remembered studying it in a First Year English course at UVic; I, despite having a degree in the same at the same, never actually studied it, but knew it from an essay called "The Poet and the Peasants" written by the late Jean Kerr which recounted, in hilarious and poignant detail, her ambitious plot to get her five young sons to memorize and even like poetry. I have never forgotten the article, but clearly, I didn't read this particular poem closely enough:

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 héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

So, to sum up, it's addressed to a little girl, not a heart-broken young woman, and Goldengrove is a place, not a heartless young man. Couldn't have been more wrong.

So I went out to walk in the "unleaving" neighbourhood just before the late afternoon sunlight got gobbled up by the over-eager twilight of late autumn, where the last of the maple leaves were being scooped into paper bags by the more civic-minded, the rest being left to blow anti-socially over others' yards. It has been an unusually balmy November and there are whispers of a rainy rather than snowy Christmas this year.

I bent my steps in the direction of the Rideau River and thought mourning-for-Margaret November thoughts while watching ducks on a current so slow and in air so still that they might have been swimming in a pond. Then I strolled further and noticed for the first time that there are beavers living along the river bank. Mind you, I've never seen one in my nine years in Hades. I suppose the squirrels could have been getting extra hungry and ambitious; I wouldn't put it past them.

Finally, I nearly got ploughed off the sidewalk by a car which roared up the side-street and inexplicably tried to wedge itself between the sidewalk and another car making a right turn into a driveway. Honks and words were exchanged between the two drivers, as I checked to see if my heart hadn't jumped out of my chest and dazedly mused about the lack of control we have in what happens to us, plus the fact I'd told the RFB I'd be home in half an hour and his potential progression of annoyance to worry to panic if I'd not shown up. This, of course led to morbid thoughts of the events of a year ago. Come to think of it, I was mourning for Margaret then, too.

1 comment:

Alan Adamson said...

Lovely post, Persephone, and thanks so much for reminding me of that not-quite-forgotten Hopkins poem. And yes, that is a beaver at work. I manage about two sightings a year walking almost daily along my waterfront, and I know where the lodge is. They can be pretty elusive.