My brother, Dan Wells (author of the excellent I Am Not a Serial Killer series), is an avid reader of poetry. Because he’s a year older than me, I grew up wanting to be the exact opposite of him—he always loved English, so I always loved math. He loved drama, I loved sports. He loved poetry, I didn’t. (This is an oversimplification, but it’ll do for a Friday morning blog.)
Although I eventually overcame my dislike of English (though it wasn’t until after high school that I even self-identified as a reader, let alone a writer!) I never really got into poetry. I think that the casual, reluctant reader can get into fiction, but poetry is another beast entirely. It requires more effort, more analysis, and it’s harder a newbie to dive right in. (I realize this is another oversimplification. I guess Friday is the day for sweeping generalizations.)
Anyway, Dan recently started a summer poetry challenge. The goal is to memorize one new poem each week, all summer. His rules are these:
1. It must be a poem you don’t already have fully memorized, but it’s okay if you already have some of it memorized.
2. You must recite the entire poem, out loud, from memory, for at least one other person, on Sunday. That gives you slightly less than a full week for the first one, so pick something easy.
3. There are no length restrictions, but if all your poems are little quatrains or tiny nursery rhymes you’re cheating in spirit. Throw a few multi-stanza poems in there; you can do it.
4. No William Carlos Williams allowed. There will be zero tolerance on this point.
5. Everything is done completely on the honors system. If you say you did it, we believe you.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
I’ve decided to join in this challenge, since I could definitely afford to read and know more poetry. I encourage you to join in as well, because it will be more fun that way. If you’d like to play, leave a comment here or there, or not. (It’s not like this is official in any way.) But every week I’ll be posting the poem I’m working on, and I’d love to hear yours.
My poem this week is one that is near and dear to my heart. I have a line from this one tacked to my wall, but I’ve never memorized the whole thing. (I’ve seen the title phrased two different ways, either as “Spring and Fall” or “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child.” I’m not sure which is correct.) The text is below:
Spring and Fall, by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1880)
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.