Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Leaves That Are Green Turn to Gold

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.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

Reflection – It’s been awhile since we had any poetry on the blog (the Monday psalms aside). This time of year always puts me in mind of this fine Hopkins poem. The leaves in Combermere have been spectacular this week, at their finest peak of reds, golds, orange, and yellow. We have had bright sun the past few days, which has given the overall effect of the world being on fire, the fall leaves glowing incandescent in the light.

I have always believed there to be a profound sacramental meaning in the beauty of fall. Because, of course what we are watching as we watch the “leaves that are green turn to gold” is a large scale manifestation of death and dying, the living tissue of tree-leaf turning to ‘wanwood leafmeal’ lying on the earth, to decay and become part of the earth.

And it is a spectacularly beautiful sight, breath-taking in its brilliance. Hopkins of course is writing in this poem about the next sequence in the fall, the great denuding of the trees of their leaves, the fading of the red, gold, and orange into various hues of brown and grey, the starkness of the branches stripped of their foliage. I personally find that has its own beauty, but I am well known to have weird taste in these matters and to find beauty in the strangest things.

But we are all caught up in this season, at least in the northern hemisphere, in a grand contemplation of death and dying—the blight that man was born for, the springs of sorrow, that for which we ‘weep and know why’ as life draws on.

The blaze of glory that accompanies the ‘dying’ of the trees has, I maintain, a sacramental significance. That is, I believe it communicates to us that death is not merely a blight, not merely a sorrow, that there is something in the passing away of a life, and particularly a human life, that manifests glory, that reveals the beauty and majesty of a person.

We always joke in Madonna House that we don’t really appreciate anyone in the community until they die, and then we see them plain, perhaps a little bit as God sees them. In their passing away they shine forth like autumn leaves of red and gold before they vanish into the earth, disappear into the mysterious heart of God.

There is grief then, of course, in the death of the dying, in the inevitable presence of death in all our lives and our own deaths, whenever they may come. But it is a grief tightly bound up with the precious beauty, the blazing fire of color and depth and life that shines forth in this world, so often most brilliantly in the very moment of its passing away.

It is this beauty and this shining forth that, I believe, bears witness to the hope of the resurrection, to their being something next, something beyond, some continuance of the person, of life, that the grave is not the goal, the end, the finis of the world. We live, we die, we shine forth like a bonfire shooting up into the sky, and then vanish… but we do not cease. The song is taken up in a new key, in a new mode, the fire burns even more brightly in a different world, with a light and flame that is not extinguished.

Margaret grieves, but Margaret will rejoice. Fall comes, and then winter, but spring comes after, and it is the assurance of our faith that spring and the glory of summer is the last word of God to man, the last movement of the world into eternity, and that the glory and beauty of the person will shine forever in the resurrection of the dead.