Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Power of a Poem 5

Life is almost certainly about transitions.  Just last evening I was Master of Ceremonies for the Graduation Mass and Ceremony of our Sixth Year students at our school.  Such ceremonies are occasions of great joy, though they are always tinged with a sorrow to a greater or lesser extent.  Life is about onward movement, about new beginnings, new departures, and as such always means leaving something or someone behind.  Our ceremony was tinged with the sadness of leaving school and most especially of having lost one of the class to death at the young age of fifteen years some three years previously.  And yet, the message of all the sages from all the great religions and even from agnostic and atheistic psychotherapists is that we should learn to live in the "now" of life, to forget the guilt and regret associated with our past life and to cease worrying about the future.  Such regrets and fears are useless and unprofitable feelings.  If anything, they are dispiriting, depressing and fundamentally energy-draining.

One of my favourite poems about transitions is by the wonderful Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.  It is fittingly called Spring and Fall.  Life is cyclic, and spirituality is always and essentially finely attuned to the cycles of the seasons - the new life of Spring and the dying back of life in Autumn before the deathly dark and lifeless Winter.  This poem is quite sad, but yet there is ba great serenity about it, a certain quiet acceptance of the inevitable.  There is also that sense of our very own fear of our own mortality.  How often have I heard it said and how often have I read the fact that when we grieve for those lost to death we are often grieving for ourselves, because we, too, must relinquish our hold on life.  The inevitability of extinction is written in our genes.  Now, gentle reader, reflect on Hopkins' wonderfully deep and musically moving lines in this beautiful little lyric:

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

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

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