Endings and beginnings ~ why you need to grieve for the past before you can begin anew


Endings and beginnings ~ why you need to grieve for the past before you can begin anew

I’ve always loved Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry but the following poem was recently brought back to my attention by a musical version of it by Natalie Marchant.

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.

For those of you that are not poetically inclined, the poem is addressed to a young girl who is distressed that the leaves of her favourite woodland are falling. For a child, the seasons have not yet become predictable and the certainty that we as adults may feel that the spring will come and the trees with again be crowned in green is not present. The grief of the child is palpable in the words Hopkins writes; she is too young to have the assurance of spring. And yet, Hopkins does not dismiss this. Indeed, he says that even though as she grows older and becomes more hardened to such things, she will still weep for such things because the origin of the sorrow will always remain. Essentially a poem about the grief our own mortality can bring us, it is one of such compassion and understanding of a particularly sensitive child that I felt it speak to me personally.

Death has become the last great taboo in our culture and the thing that divides us most. People would rather not think about their own mortality at all and those who do are labelled as morbid or negative. Yet the fact remains that we all die. How and where and when are the great unknowns. And what comes next, if anything, is the greatest mystery of them all. Unlike children who learn by experience that after the great unleaving of the trees in Autumn and the cold, cold days of Winter, the Spring returns without fail, we cannot discover by experience and rest easy in that knowledge.

So the smaller deaths in life, the partings and the endings, become focuses for our anxiety and need for reassurance. Moving house, as I have done many times, becomes a grief beyond the mere hassle. So much of my life has been bound up within those walls. Changing jobs. The death of others close to me. All these endings. They’re hard to bear. Really hard to bear. And the temptation is to leap ahead for comfort, to try and see the future where things do not hurt. To know that the Spring will come again.

And yet, this is something that denies the reality of the moment. The death of a friend even when you are sure in your heart that death is not the final curtain but a change of state, should hurt. It needs to, because it returns you to a state of innocence, that of Margaret in the poem, where you grieve in a pure state.

In our busy society, without time or inclination for either rites of passage or time to grieve, to be allowed to grieve is a blessing. It allows healing to happen. If you cut that time short, you cut yourself. And the longer you defer or postpone or refuse that grieving, the more you may find waiting for you later.

  Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to grieve, because in some ways, you are grieving for yourself as well. 

12 thoughts on “Endings and beginnings ~ why you need to grieve for the past before you can begin anew

  1. Oh Vivienne, once again you speak to my heart at exactly the right time. How can one NOT believe in synchronicity? How can one not believe that messages are sent. I read this and cry softly…for my friend who endures the funeral of her mother today (and a large part of me will be there with her today) but also for my own losses…many and strange…that weigh heavy on my heart today.
    Thank you. And for reminding me of GMH…so beautiful.

    • I do believe in synchronicity but usually more for others than for me!
      I hope that the day went peacefully and that you found some sense of both relief and love.
      thank you.

  2. Viv, I so enjoyed reading your post this morning. It is very well-written and always a pleasure to read that poem. The messages in that post also seem very timely given the situation in Japan which is no doubt dominating all our thoughts.

    Four lines stood out especially for me today:

    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;

    Strangely they had never really resonated in quite the same way, but they are indeed so true as your post explores. Rediscovering resonances and finding new ones – that is one of the pleasures of coming back to literature, whether poetry or prose.

    At the risk of responding to a quotation with a quotation your post made me think of the following which I read last year and which really resonated on this topic:

    ‘Life is a continuous process of holding on and letting go. Most of the time, the process occurs gracefully, with little awareness. However, grief often triggers a premature
    rupture. We are forced to end a relationship long before we are ready. As a result, we are thrown out of our rhythm. We are forced to deal with constructing a new sense of order in a revised world, and find a new balance.
    One of our basic tasks as humans is to adjust creatively to what life hands us. Every important experience contains the seeds of wisdom. It is our relationship to the loss
    that matters. If we prematurely “move on” without honoring the learning embedded in the loss, an important opportunity for growth and development has been lost. On the other hand, if we linger too long, and if the loss is constantly figural, unduly influencing and distorting the present and future, then possibilities for newness and creativity are also diminished. We are trapped in non-redemptive grief and longing, experienced as reparable only by the undoing of the loss; that is, by the physical return of the loved one. We are held hostage by a kind of hope that has no evidence to support it, a kind of
    hope that translates into delayed disappointment and missed opportunities. We all yearn for a sense of completion, a hug that ends with mutuality, a relationship
    that terminates with mutual consent, a life that ends well. Yet the times when this happens are rare. At best, if we are very lucky, the pain and obsessive focus that
    accompanies large loss fades in time and becomes integrated into our own new and ever-changing self, receding largely into the background. The important relationships, in whatever form they manifest, never end. They are with us forever and become who we are and what we do.’
    — Joseph Melnick
    Thanks again, Viv!

    • I am delighted you added a quote of such power and sensitivity to the original post. It really adds to it and I hope that those who read the post will also read the comments. I may add this to the body of the post.
      I know what you mean about the words never quite resonating till that moment. My dear friend Kate gave us the cd for Christmas and I have been listening to it with great care since it arrived; some of the songs are poems by comic poets like Lear and yet, they take on deeper meanings than we would originally subscribe to them. Sometimes it is a change of context that makes a poem, a song or a book suddenly become relevant: a delayed aha moment, when you suddenly “get” it. I’d never quite “got” this one till recently.
      thanks for your wonderful input, Karin.

    • Mark, some of my readers (shock, horror!) don’t actually like poetry and are scared of it. The explanation was to hold their hands rather than have them run away…
      glad you got it; am sending an email shortly.

  3. Pingback: The Year in Review: highs, lows, triumphs and tragedies of 2011 « Zen and the art of tightrope walking

  4. Your writing is beautiful and insightful. Reading your post I felt it was okay to grieve and be present to the winter to come. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reflections. I’ll look forward to reading your work again.

    • Thank you. You express it well: to “be present to the winter to come” is as vital as enjoying the spring. It comes down to this: the decay of winter is the thing that feeds the spring.

  5. Thank you for this post, Viv – I suspect the child within me is still not absolutely sure that Spring will, in fact, arrive as I find this time of year especially difficult. Only as the light begins to creep back do I begin to trust again. And, yes, grief unexpressed can leak into the sunniest of days.

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