«A Dissertation by SARAH ELIZABETH HART Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of Texas A&M University in partial fulfillment of the requirements ...»
Levinas explains, "When death is here, I am no longer here, not just because I am nothingness, but because I am unable to grasp," no longer able to create connections, to act responsibly, or to make meaningful relationships ("Time" 41). Alternatively, to vanquish death "is to maintain, with the alterity of the event, a relationship that must still be personal," to maintain personal, meaningful relationships through death (Levinas, "Ethics" 47). For example, Levinas suggests that personal relationships may be preserved by sacrificing one's own life to protect the other, as if self-sacrifice invokes a "'non-separation in death'" by transforming an event of separation into an act of responsible connection ("Dying For" 215). When death robs the subject of her ability "to be able," of her capacity for responsibility, injustice may inhere in the subject's death as well as in the other's death.
If injustice may inhere in one's own death, then mourning for one's own death my express one's attitude toward injustice. By attending to injustice, the subject already orients herself toward community, toward the communal contexts of justice. Mourning for our own deaths may thus exceed narcissism by expressing our attention to the communal, responsible element of our own deaths. In this respect, mourning may imply our communal, responsible nature that precedes our own individuality, according to Levinas. This communal aspect of self-mourning entails mourning the loss of our connections with others. Since such loss of connection is also a fundamental concern for rhetoric, then mourning may also reflect a rhetorical attitude.
If we read Hopkins's and Frost's poems rhetorically, then we may find that, although the poems seem to argue explicitly that loss and separation define personhood, they also demonstrate how mourning and other emotions can create genuine connections between people. The rhetorics of "Spring and Fall" and "Nothing Gold Can Stay" suggest that poetry can rhetorically evoke emotional connections and, in doing so, affirm personal presences.
From Rhetorical Loss to Emotional Connection Loss is foregrounded in the opening question of "Spring and Fall," "Margaret, are your grieving/Over Goldengrove unleaving?" which orients the poem around grief and separation—but, if we read it rhetorically, the question also presents an opportunity for connection (Hopkins 1). The question of why Margaret grieves is most readily answered by the rhetoric of the question itself: Margaret does grieve for "Goldengrove unleaving" (G. Hopkins, "Spring" 1). In this respect, the question is rhetorical in that it is an observation presented as a question for the effect it will have on the audience. In his essay "Rhetoric and Functionality in Hopkins," Brian Vickers identifies the functionality of rhetoric as the capacity of language to create affective connections between writers and readers. Rhetorical devices like metaphor and simile express the writer's feelings "in a way that would arouse" or impress "the same feelings in the audience," and thus create an affective connection between writer and audience (Vickers 80). By cultivating such emotional similarity between writers and readers, rhetoric entails "an awareness of the reciprocal effects of writer on audience, audience on writer" (Vickers 101). Hopkins' question reflects such reciprocity between the speaker and Margaret in terms of her grief.
The speaker's opening question reciprocates Margaret's grief by reflecting it back to her in a form that invites a response. By asking the question, the speaker indicates that he has been moved, affected by her grief. His recognition of her grief partially coincides with her grief itself, reciprocating her effect on him by, at least implicitly, inviting her to reflect on her grief with him. Even as a rhetorical question, it still participates in reciprocal effects between the speaker and Margaret, affirming an emotional connection between them as both parties direct their attention toward grief. As Kenneth Burke explains, we may identify two people who share "common sensations, concepts, images, ideas, attitudes that make them consubstantial" (RM 21). We may identify Margaret and Hopkins's speaker in terms of their shared "attitudes" of mourning, even if they do not actually converse with each other (RM 21).
The rhetorical, emotional dimension of the question does not, however, preclude its retaining a sincere meaning too. The speaker's reflections throughout the poem suggest that, in another respect, the question is quite genuine since the speaker considers other possible motives of mourning later in the poem. Insofar as the speaker seems to pose the opening question directly to Margaret herself, he kindly recognizes her grief in a humble question rather than a statement (like "I see you grieving" that seems to risk embarrassing and alienating a grieving audience, inhibiting connection with her). By asking Margaret about her grief, the speaker invites a response from her, thereby decentering his own ego.7 Through the structure of a question, the speaker implicitly admits that he might be mistaken about Margaret's grief. He acknowledges that he cannot know her grief on his own; his knowledge is limited and needs to be supplemented at least in part by dialogue with Margaret. The question seems to entail
7. Even if the question is asked ironically, as Eynel Wardi suggests, the force of the irony turns on the invitation for a response (241). The condescending or patronizing tone of such an "ironical" question undermines the sincerity of the invitation for a response, reaffirming the speaker's ego and alienating the audience (Wardi 241).
simultaneously both a gesture of care for Margaret and an acknowledgement of the speaker's own epistemological limits. The speaker seems curious about Margaret's grief, but also moved by it as well. Grief still serves as the impetus for the speaker's desire to know about Margaret, as the question emphasizes. The rhetorical and sincere meanings of the question are not mutually exclusive; rather, the rhetorical meaning creates an emotional connection that seems necessary for further discussion about why exactly Margaret mourns. The rhetorical meaning creates an emotional connection that enhances the audience's ability to respond to the question's sincere meaning.
The ambiguity about whether or not the speaker actually addresses Margaret indicates that the speaker himself may be mourning as well. For example, Wynne argues that the speaker is most likely having an internal dialogue with himself, explaining that the poem reflects his "inner," self-directed "discourse" (59). This discourse involves "the mental progress of a single mind seeking the mark and expression of its identity with the Christocentric cosmos" (Wynne 59). This "single mind" searching for "identity" thus assumes a dialogic structure—even if the dialogue is only internal (Wynne 59). The rhetorical and sincere meanings of the question still hold in such an inner dialogue, although their effects may vary slightly if we consider the speaker as the primary audience of his own inner dialogue. For example, the affective connections that, according to Vickers, rhetoric invokes between writers and readers may also take the form of the writer's connection with herself. Kenneth Burke explains, "A man can be his own audience, insofar as he, even in his secret thoughts, cultivates certain ideas or images for the effect he hopes they may have upon him" (RM 38). The language and images of internal thoughts have a persuasive "effect" on writers or speakers themselves, evoking specific emotional responses and connections within the speaker herself (Burke, RM 38). When Hopkins's speaker asks, "Márgarét, áre you gríeving/Over Goldengrove unleaving?" he presents an image of grief to himself, whether or not Margaret hears the question (G. Hopkins, "Spring" 1-2).
In this respect, we may view the speaker himself as also mourning. The speaker's subsequent reflections on the conditions of humanity, the universal human "heart" growing "older" and "colder," and "the blight man was born for" indicate that the speaker recognizes that significant losses (loss of innocence, loss of connections with others, loss of life itself) constitute human experience. As the speaker views Margaret as representing all humanity, he implicitly recognizes himself, as a member of humanity, in her grief as well. Insofar as the speaker identifies with Margaret's grief, he seems to adopt a similar attitude of mourning for the condition of humanity. When the speaker concludes that Margaret, like the rest of us, mourns ultimately for herself, he also seems to describe himself. The image of Margaret's grief that the speaker presents to himself allows the speaker to adopt a mournful attitude that mirrors Margaret's mourning. This attitude moves the speaker to reflect on the condition of humanity and its constituent losses (regardless of whether he actually voices these thoughts to Margaret herself or whether she understands them). He thus addresses and comes to terms with these losses, which are also in part his own, via the image of Margaret's grief.
The poem's images of grief may have had a similar effect on Hopkins himself.
Since this poem was written during Hopkins's oppressive, de-moralizing stay in Liverpool, it seems plausible that on some level, he may have written this poem in "hopes" that it would help him come to terms with his own sense of overwhelming loss (Burke, RM 38). In this sense, "Spring and Fall" may reflect Hopkins's response not only to the depressing atmosphere of Liverpool, but also to his persistent anxiety about whether or not spring—with the sense of renewal, beauty, hope, and growth it signified for Hopkins—would actually return each year. Through the poem's images, Hopkins may hope to reconcile the conflict between his childish fear that spring, hope, and renewal will not return and his adult knowledge that it will. In these respects, the poem's rhetoric may have helped Hopkins himself come to terms with the loss of inspiration and creativity that he felt in Liverpool and with the loss of his own peace of mind.
Like Hopkins, Frost too may have written "Nothing Gold Can Stay" in "hopes" that the poem's "images" might have consoling effects on him (Burke, RM 38). The images of springtime youth changing, moving towards death, may have been especially resonant for Frost when he drafted the initial fragment of the poem in 1900 when his young son passed away (Tuten and Zubizarreta xiv). Around the time Frost revised the poem in 1920, his sense of loss may have been heightened by the trials at Amherst, his ill health, and the news of his sister's declining mental health. The images of "Nothing Gold Can Stay" seem to have enduring appeal for Frost, who revived a discarded octet from drafts of "Nothing Gold Can Stay" in "It Is Almost the Year Two Thousand," published in 1942 (Parini 201; Pyle 175). By this time, Frost had lost a daughter to complications following childbirth, his wife to a severe heart attack, and his second son, Carol, to suicide (Parini 290, 310, 332). The persistent presence of loss in Frost's life may well have contributed to the appeal he found in poetic images of loss. Loss and mourning must have been familiar feelings for Frost, and probable effects of "Nothing Gold Can Stay," as Sanders and Vogel recognize its "elegiac tone" and Ping and Reed trace the emotional descent that the poem effects as readers "slide from delight to sorrow" (Sanders and Vogel 240; Ping and Reed 119). Such an emotional effect may
serve a purpose similar to the one that the fort-da game served for Freud's grandson:
Perhaps such emotional effects help familiarize both internal and external audiences with grief and other emotional responses to loss. Familiarity, however, may do little to attenuate intense grief, and elegiac poems may at most provide opportunities for addressing grave losses that may seem to rupture one's very core and for finding order once again.
Frost and Hopkins both seem to defy their poems' emphases on loss by creating connections with reader. Hopkins's opening question also functions rhetorically in creating an emotional connection with his reader. Like Hopkins's speaker, and Margaret herself if the question is addressed to her explicitly, the reader is oriented toward Margaret's grief and thus toward Margaret. Like the speaker who seems to participate in Margaret's grief insofar as he recognizes it as such, Hopkins's reader may also indirectly participate in her grief by recognizing it. Like the speaker addresses the losses that constitute personhood, including his own, so too may Hopkins's reader orient herself toward loss by attending to the speaker's descriptions. As the reader confronts not only Margaret's grief for Goldengrove but also the speaker's grief for humanity and for himself, she may recognize herself as identified with both Margaret and the speaker through their shared attitudes toward grief. This two-fold identification may give the reader an even stronger sense of connection than the speaker may experience insofar as he is only identified with Margaret. This sense of connection resists the themes of alienation and isolation, which scholars like Wardi and Slakey have emphasized.
Although the speaker does question Margaret's—and humanity's—capacity to care about others, his doubts are expressed in language that evokes emotional connections between Margaret, the speaker, and Hopkins's reader. Connections between people are also emphasized by the question/answer format of the poem's dialogic structure. Since the genre of the poem implies an audience, the poem's structure implies its potential to connect to an audience, even as the content of the poem calls the possibility of such connections into question.