Edmund Waller and Gerard Manley Hopkins are English poets, whose life path and literary performance are extremely different. Waller is a 17th-century poet and politician, who has a successful career. His poems are well known among his contemporaries, are published during his life, and even have several editions. Hopkins, on the other hand, is a 19th-century poet, who appears to be an outsider. Although England is mostly a Protestant country, Hopkins chooses the path of converting to Catholicism and even becomes a Jesuit priest (Mariani 5). Most of his poetry has a religious background and appears to be far from social issues. However, the poems “Go Lovely Rose” (1645) by Waller and “Spring and Fall” (1880) by Hopkins are the significant pieces of poetry, which have a clear thematic link between them. Both of the poems have similar recipients and are devoted to the topics of death and unity with nature, although the poets’ main goals are different.
Waller and Hopkins address their poems to certain young women. They use such kind of figurative language as the personification in order to compare the human life with the objects of nature. “Go Lovely Rose” by Waller is an adaptation of the theme of “carpe diem”, with is common for the Cavalier poetry (Brackett 191). The poet addresses his claiming to the woman he aims to seduce. The second stanza of the poem leaves no doubts to the reader:
“Tell her that’s young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died” (Waller 34).
Being pushed by his desires, the poet seduces the woman by a traditional comparison with a “lovely rose”. The whole poem is constructed at the development of this idea. Although the poem is addressed to the rose sent to the lady, it is a lady herself, who should listen to and make conclusions. The poet applies to an inanimate object, which is a personification of his lady, with the idea of how short the life youth, in particular, is. An important issue here is that the poetry of this kind is always sensual. The male poet never mentions things like the lady’s soul, as he focuses on her body instead (Weiss 37). Therefore, the aim of the poem “Go Lovely Rose” is to remind the reader that human body is mortal and has only a little time for pleasure.
The idea of Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall” seems to be similar. The poem is addressed directly to a young girl, who is grieving over the falling leaves in autumn:
“Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?” (Hopkins 98).
The poet feels pity for the girl who believes the objects in nature to be alive. She feels grief while watching the leaves fall down, as they seem to die this way. Here, in this poem, it is the girl who personifies nature, not the poet himself. However, the poet keeps his right to make an analysis of the character’s state and describes her feelings with authority. Hopkins claims that the girl sees her own fate in the natural process, and she is sad when the lives die because of the clear self-identification with their destiny.
The process of identification is common for “Go Lovely Rose” and “Spring and Fall”, and the even more important factor is that this identification is not complete in both cases. The parallel addressing to woman and rose in Waller’s poem leaves the space for difference in details. The poet asks the rose:
“Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be” (Waller 34).
The word “resemble” leads the reader to an immediate comparison between the rose and the lady. However, Waller chooses to say that his lady “seems” to be “sweet and fair”, not just that she is sweet. The word “seems” is used intentionally, as the poet’s aim is to emphasize that his lady will not always be like that. In the third stanza the poet clearly declares that the lady should fulfill the comparison by herself, as it is obvious:
“ Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired” (Waller 34).
These words are emotionally rich and they cannot be addressed to the rose – only to the young woman. It is a way for the poet to express his true intentions toward her, which otherwise he can’t politely say (Weiss 36). The final gap between the lady and the rose is caused by the fact that the latest has no soul, and cannot provide the poet with a feedback.
Hopkins also uses the issue of human sensibility in order to make the inanimate nature more poetical. This fact makes the personification incomplete and limited, as it happens only through the mind of a young girl, a child, actually. Moreover, the power of imagination becomes weaker with the passage of time:
“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” (Hopkins 98).
In the Hopkins’ poem, the personification is approved and rejected at the same time. At first, the poet aims to deny the self-identification with nature, but then, he provides the girl with the information of deeper meaning. There is no need to feel sorrow for the autumn leaves, but there is one reason for grief, and the reason is that all the human beings are mortal.
Death is the main topic of both “Go Lovely Rose” and “Spring and Fall”. The Waller’s message is more aggressive, as the aim of the poem is to use the issue of death for personal reasons. The comparison between the lady and the rose ends with the statement that both of them are mortal. Although being “sweet and fair”, they both are expected to meet the common fate. The poet proclaims:
“Then die—that she
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee;” (Waller 34).
Therefore, not the beauty and sweetness is placed in the center of comparison, but the death, which is inevitable. There is no identity, however, as the rose has no chance to decide how to spend short moments of life, while the woman can choose the best option.
The Hopkins’ attitude to death is completely different, as his beliefs have a deeply religious background. The fall of leaves, described in the poem, is closely connected with another, more meaningful fall. The last two lines of the poem provide an explanation:
“It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for” (Hopkins 98).
The “Fall” mentioned in the title of the poem is the fall of original sin, committed by Adam and Eve. This fall is the reason of why the people are mortal, and this is the real reason for the grief, according to Hopkins. This fall brought death into the world, not only for humankind but also for nature (Weiss 99). The true source of sorrow, thus, is the nature of the human, not the nature in its general meaning. Although “Spring” is mentioned only in the title of the poem, it is present there indirectly. The recognition of her own fate by the girl and her discovering of the self is the first step to the rich spiritual life. The “Spring” of one’s self-recognition is the final chord of the poem.
An interpretative literary analysis of the poems “Go Lovely Rose” (1645) by Waller and “Spring and Fall” (1880) by Hopkins shows that there is a theme that makes them similar, and this theme is the issue of death. Every person discovers what the death is, sooner or later. However, the most evidential examples are present in nature around. The poems are connected on several levels. Both of them are addressed to young women, who are expected to make certain conclusions while observing the mortality in natural life. The personification is the main instrument, used by both of the poets. The women are expected to watch the death of the flowers and leaves, staying alive themselves. Waller wants his lady to enjoy the benefits of her young and beautiful body, whereas Hopkins makes a strong accent on the spiritual life.
- Waller, Edmund. “Go Lovely Rose”. The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem. By Shira
Wolosky Weiss. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. p. 34.
- Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “Spring and Fall”. The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem. By Shira Wolosky Weiss. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. p. 98.
- Weiss, Shira Wolosky. The Art of Poetry: How to Read a Poem. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2001.
- Brackett, Virginia. The Facts on File Companion to British Poetry: 17Th and 18th Centuries.
New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008.
- Mariani, Paul. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life. New York: Penguin, 2008.