"Gee, I think I like yours better!"
The childish student in me still warms to see the comment written in my creative writing teacher's rushed script. We were asked to write a parody of a selected poem. I devised a revision of Gerard Manly Hopkin's 'Spring and Fall: to a Young Child', written in 1880 by the Jesuit priest. I will share my rendition first, transcribed from the verse worked over in pencil on yellow-lined paper in 1991.
Spring and Fall: To a Young Student
Margaret, are you leaving
the desk lamp, and your reading?
To wander in the damp outdoors,
Pretend to roam the English moors?
You shift your mind to greater thoughts
The leaf that falls, the twig that rots.
Moist mounds of mulch won't hear your cries!
Regardless of the world that dies,
Your homework on the table lies.
Now's not the time to contemplate
The fleeting seasons, your spirit's fate,
But tomorrow, the test, the teacher's eyes,
and lines of Chaucer to memorize.
It is the blight man was born for.
It is Margaret you must learn for.
This procrastinator's plight was based on a true story. The existentialist flourish came in part from reminiscing about the glee with which my high school friends and I wrote 'exquisite corpse' (Link to Exquisite Corpse post) poetry in our Creative Writing class four years before.
It is late autumn, 1987. I am in my senior year and sitting at home on a weekend night. No plans, no date, no siblings around to kill the time with. Mom and Dad are tucked away in their chambers already and it's only eight p.m. Trying to leech as much romanticism out of my situation as I can, I attempt to make some progress reading Jane Eyre. As a nightgown, I am wearing the burgundy and eggplant paisley patterned kaftan my mother wore in the mid-70s. My mind meanders around the book page and it's tiny font kerned too close together for my comprehension. I listen to the steady rainfall outside. Wanting to put Jane's rub-your-nose-in-it ennui to the test, I go outside to feel the sound of the rain. I'm barefoot and feeling extra Victorian-Gothic, wearing nothing under the long gown. I go outside and walk down the brick path alongside the herb garden and into the dirt yard between the apple trees. There I stand and take in the wet dark. Sheets of rain dampen me top to toes in no time. Mud is spattering around my ankles and I feel the sharpness of stones under foot. I am looking into the blurred glowing forms that are the windows of the house, glimpses into a warm space inside. Coming out here I thought I might break the spell - to understand it differently from outside looking in. Now I feel raw with the chill that arrives once the gown is clinging to my body. I know the spell to be the same as where I stand, unbroken in the dark or the lamplight. I press my feet into a patch of grass and pivot in a slow cycle: porchlight - single blinks of light from neighbors far off - one lit window where my parents are reclining together - total blackness. Fixing my view on the porch light I make a dash and pad quickly back inside.
Earlier in the year, I selected a poem to study by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 - 1889). I am not English, but I know mulch. I know composting and I know what it is to be a child living among the ghosts of children leaving home.
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
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.