Mortality has been the subject of numerous poetic works. Whether through glory, compassion, or love, mortality always stood out as the inevitable element of one’s happy or unhappy living. Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Spring and Fall: To a Young Child, A. E. Housman’s To an Athlete Dying Young, and When I Was One-and-Twenty reveal the hidden facets of poetic melancholy regarding human mortality. Of the three poems under research, Hopkins’ Spring and Fall: To a Young Child provides the most compassionate account of the death’s inevitability.
In his poem, Hopkins refers to death as the inevitable component of one’s life, and whenever an individual finds sufficient strength to recognize the inevitability of death, he (she) finally comes to realize the true meaning of life, full of grief and melancholy for the years that never come back. Mortality is the subject that attracts poetic attention and expands the boundaries of poetic imagination. Mortality is the subject full of philosophic implications which poets can readily use to explore the limits or infinity of one’s understanding of what life and death are. “Margaret, are you grieving / Over Goldengrove unleaving?
/ Leaves, like the things of man, you / With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? ” (Hopkins). For Hopkins, to realize the inevitability of death is not simply to realize the meaning of life; here, realizing the meaning of mortality stands out as the tool of natural human maturation – from childhood, through adolescence, to adulthood. As the poet seeks to assert that mortality and death are the essential components of one’s full life, his line of positivism is logically continued by A. E. Housman, who tries to confirm the positive and almost beautiful nature of death.
For Housman, death is the glorious end of one’s successful career; more than that, dying young is the best instrument a person can use to retain and preserve the glorious image of his (her) professional and personal success. For Houseman, death is nothing else but the essential culmination of one’s individual progress: “Smart lad, to slip betimes away / From fields were glory does not stay / And early though the laurel grows / It withers quicker than the rose” (Houseman). Nevertheless, the poet seems to hold no melancholy, compassion, or regret about the athlete’s death.
Where Hopkins recognizes the tragedy of death and the need to mourn for those who leave us for good, Houseman asserts that life is nothing but a short transitional period between birth and death. As a rose, life tends to wither, and death is just a continuous and never ending process of remembering those, who are no longer with us. “When I was one-and-twenty / I heard a wise man say, ‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas / But not your heart away” (Houseman). In this context, the immaterial nature of mortality is successfully opposed to the material nature of our daily strivings to self-perfection.
Whether in sports, in personal life, or in our desire to be with those whom we love, we tend to forget the futility and uselessness of these achievements in the face of approaching death. Here, Houseman tries to establish the link between one’s glorious progress and one’s glorious ending, and whenever Hopkins tries to review the meaning of life through the meaning of death, Houseman makes similar attempts, which still leave no place for compassion but describe life and death in dry black and white colors.
Death and mortality for Hopkins carry a tint of compassion and mourn; for Houseman, however, death and mortality are nothing more but the logical end of one’s logical or illogical life. Houseman depicts life and death in colors that are characteristic of traditional Greek tragedy, while Hopkins seeks to give mortality a more humanistic and earthier coloring: “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”.
For Hopkins, death is the inevitable end of one’s life, but less glorious and more natural, as well as more understandable to the reader than mortality depicted by Houseman. Certainly, it is difficult to disagree to Houseman in that “Now you will not swell the rout / Of lads that wore their honours out, / Runners whom renown outran / And the name dies before the man”, but a common reader will hardly agree that dying young is the best instrument of preserving one’s glory.
More than that and against Houseman’s beliefs, mortality and death will always associate with mourning, especially when death breaks the lives of young and increasingly strong men. That is why to realize the true essence of death means to realize the true meaning of life, and whenever we seek to justify the tragedy and inevitability of one’s death, we cannot escape mournful feelings. Mortality is in no way the means to preserve one’s dignity; nor is it the means to preserve one’s positive and successful image in human memory.
Mortality is just another component of one’s life, and whether we are able to assess the benefits of full life in their true colors will depend on our ability to recognize the critical nature of mortality as the transition between the two different worlds. Conclusion In his poem, Hopkins seeks to establish an image of mortality and death as the inevitable component of one’s life. Moreover, for Hopkins to realize the essence of death means to realize the true meaning of life, where mortality is always associated with humanism, compassion, and morning.
Death for Houseman stands out as the instrument of preserving one’s glory and as a logical culmination of one’s individual progress. As a result, such death and such attitudes toward mortality leave no room for compassion but depict them in dry black and white colors. In this context, Hopkins’ account of mortality seems more humanistic and compassionate than that of Houseman, and whenever the reader tries to find moral reconciliation and peace, Hopkins’ poetry can readily serve the foundation for the emergence of the humane, mournful image of mortality, so close and understandable to the reader.
Hopkins, G. M. “Spring and Fall: To A Young Child. ” 1880. Poemtree. 12 April 2009. http://www. poemtree. com/poems/SpringAndFall. htm Houseman, A. E. “To An Athlete Dying Young. ” 1896. Bartleby. com. 12 April 2009. http://www. bartleby. com/103/32. html Houseman, A. E. “When I Was One-and-Twenty. ” 1896. Bartleby. com. 12 April 2009. http://www. bartleby. com/123/13. html