Since I was in high school, my favorite fall poem has been one I learned about from Mr. Handby in my sophomore year. It goes like this:

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)


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.

As the leaves turn color and then drop from the trees, I admit that I annually feel sad–just like the Margaret of Hopkins’ poem. I start to feel blue that the days will grow shorter and that life is short. I feel melancholy about my previous year’s New Year’s goals. If I’ve met them, the journey is over; if I haven’t met them, I feel less than successful.

And then, each fall, there comes a day when I look around and all of the trees are bare. They look dead and brittle. And this makes me mad. Why do they have to go naked for six months? And why do I have to look out my window and see gray: gray sky and gray sticks poking up from bare trees? It isn’t fair!

But usually, around the end of December, I remember that a new year is about to begin. The hope for a new beginning, the coveted “second wind,” is what gets me through the dark days of dropping leaves and cloudy skies.

I don’t know about you, but the end of every project (for me right now it’s completing an anthology; for you it may be the end of your child-rearing, or leaving a job, or the dissolution of a marriage) ignites this same sad to mad to hope process, too.

When you’ve finished one thing but don’t yet have direction or inclination to start another, there is a winter in your heart. If you’re having winter in your life, consider letting it be. What if you don’t judge yourself for sadness and anger or for that bittersweet sense of nostalgia that sometimes overcomes us when we get the first hard rains of the season? What if you just let yourself be where you are, wandering through the dropping leaves and then, when it’s time, reaching up to touch a crisp, cold, empty branch until a new energy wells up inside? What if you/we/I go ahead and trust that the warm “second wind” of spring will come one day, and there’s nothing to do to hurry it along?


Breathe into the season.

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