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All Souls Day and the Shock of Death

Margaret are you grieving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leaves, like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for…

Ah! As the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

And then you will weep and know why.

No matter child, the name;

Sorrows springs are the same.

It is the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for…


These beautiful and mysterious words are taken from a poem by the renowned English Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. The title of the poem is “Spring and Fall.”

The poem is about a young child who looks upon the golden leaves of autumn with delight, only to be crushed with disappointment when she realizes the golden leaves fade and fall, leaving the trees apparently lifeless. The child mourns this loss and the poet understands the child’s grief to be a harbinger of greater sorrows—the first realization that everything in this world passes away. The child sees in the fading and falling leaves her own future. One day, Margaret, like the bright, yellow leaves of Goldengrove, will fade and pass away.

Life is beautiful, but contains within it sad inevitabilities. Attempts to isolate ourselves from the sad facts of life also deprive us of life’s beauty.

Hopkins’ poem is about a reality of our existence that the philosophers and theologians call contingency. Contingency is an elevated way of saying that nothing in this world lasts. Death is integral to existence and the realization and acceptance of this truth is the beginning of wisdom.

There are different strategies that human beings have employed to cope with the reality of contingency and the inevitability of death.

Read more at Word on Fire. 


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