«A Dissertation by SARAH ELIZABETH HART Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of Texas A&M University in partial fulfillment of the requirements ...»
Dialogue is more subtly absent in Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay." The poem seems to lack a definitive, personal voice without the second-person voice of Hopkins's "Spring and Fall" or the first-person voice of poems like "Desert Places." For example,
the speaker of "Desert Places" explicitly describes his absence in the first-person voice:
"I am too absent-spirited to count" (Frost, "Desert Places" line 7). The absence of such a personal voice in "Nothing Gold Can Stay" seems both to identify the speaker and Frost closely with each other, and to lend the poem universality, as if anyone or possibly everyone could be observing these losses in nature. Critics Guo Ping and Brian M. Reed do characterize the speaker of "Nothing Gold Can Stay" as "a solitary speaker in quest of truth," a "portrait" in line with their depiction of the poem as an emphatically philosophical endeavor (114). Ping and Reed also emphasize that the "poem makes us [readers] feel present at the events it describes" through the monosyllabic words that describe the natural landscape (115). In making the reader "feel present" at the poem's events, Frost's descriptions may indirectly invite the reader to identify with the speaker's point of view—to see nature through the speaker's gaze, and, since the poem seems to identify the speaker with Frost himself, through Frost's gaze.
The speaker's impersonal voice and de-emphasized presence may further amplify the reader's presence, as if an inverting a conventional speaker-listener dialogue dominated by the speaker (as in Christina Rossetti's "Remember"). The speaker-listener relationship in "Nothing Gold Can Stay" also seems compressed by Frost's emphasis on the reader's presence, which in turn seems to emphasize the writer-reader over the speaker-listener relationship. The reader's presence and may almost eclipse such dialogic relationships altogether since the reader identifies so closely with the speaker's—and Frost's—gaze. The poem seems to occlude dialogue and separation by identifying the speaker so strongly with Frost, and the reader so strongly with the speaker. These identifications emphasize identity, solidarity, and unity in ways that obscure the dialogic relationships on which such connections depend. Frost diminishes the dialogic relationships invoked through the poem's rhetorical situation in order to emphasize the unity to which they give rise. The rhetorical situation of Hopkins's poem also facilitates connections, especially the writer-reader connection, but Hopkins draws attention to dialogue's role in evoking such connections. Both Hopkins and Frost seem to use their poems' rhetorical situations to make connections present, countering their poems' elegiac descriptions of loss and absence with hopeful presences.
The Problem of Loss as a Reminder of Death Loss is conveyed through several elements of Hopkins's and Frost's poems.
Hopkins's poem connotes the loss of vitality in the autumn setting, the loss of leaves in "Goldengrove's unleaving" specifically, the loss conveyed in the "worlds of wanwood" lying "leafmeal" instead of whole, the loss of innocence and sensitivity to loss "as the heart grows older" and colder, the loss of health implied in the "blight" metaphor, the loss of explicit knowledge that neither "mouth had, no nor mind expressed," and even the loss of complete certainty/clarity about Margaret's motive for mourning, which scholars' diverse interpretations of her mourning affirm (G. Hopkins, "Spring" 2, 8, 5-6, 14, 12). Similar losses permeate Frost's poem: the loss of enduring color implied by the description "Her hardest hue to hold," the loss of extended time in the phrase "only so an hour," "the loss of earliness to a grosser lateness" (Berger 154) implied by adjectives like "first" and "early," the losses implied by the "verbs of descent" ("subsides," "sank," and "goes down") (Sanders and Vogel 239), the response to loss implied in "grief," "the loss of the gold leaves of early Spring," and "the loss of the beauties of Eden and dawn" (Frost, "Nothing" 2, 4, 1, 3, 5-7; Cureton 43). Indeed, "the inevitable loss of 'first fruits' is the main "message" of "Nothing Gold Can Stay," according to Richard D. Cureton—a characterization that also seems well-suited to Hopkins's "Spring and Fall" (38). Julian Smith finds formal loss in "Spring and Fall," observing that line 9 interrupts both the otherwise consistent rhyme scheme and conventional sonnet form (0). In "Nothing Gold," Frost emphasizes brevity and ephemerality formally through short, monosyllabic words, short sentences, and even through the brevity of the 8-line poem itself (Ping and Reed 115-116).
In "Spring and Fall," loss is also implied in the ambiguous connection between Margaret and the narrator. Lorraine Wynne and I. A. Richards both indicate that the speaker is most likely having an internal dialogue with himself, prompted by Margaret's grief. Wynne explains that the poem reflects an "inner," self-directed "discourse"—a "reverie," according to Gerard A. Pilecki (Wynne 59; Pilecki 88). John A. Myers, Jr.
emphasizes that the speaker "is not" literally speaking to Margaret but "is merely musing out loud" since "Margaret would hardly understand" his philosophical speculations (586). These emphases on the speaker's internal reflections describe his disconnection from Margaret, a loss of connection that seems paradoxical given that the subtitle, "To a Young Child," explicitly addresses the poem to the child. This loss that apparently interrupts or defers the poem's dialogic structure invites us to view other differences, like those between spring and fall, life and death, growth and decay, as oppositions also defined by loss (at least loss of identity, if not of connection). Like Hopkins's narrator, Frost's speaker also seems to reflect internally, although his reflections seem to have an opposite effect in that they may invite the reader to identify closely with the speaker's view, whereas the internal reflections of Hopkins's narrator seem to separate him from the child he watches, the audience to whom the poem is explicitly addressed.
Both Hopkins and Frost negotiate universality and loss through synecdoche. In Hopkins's poem, the comparatively older speaker views Margaret's grief for Goldengrove synecdochally, as representing an element of universal human experience, explaining that Margaret, like other people, will herself grow "colder" as she matures and no longer mourns for trivial losses like autumn leaves or even for the greater losses conveyed through the metaphor "worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie" (G. Hopkins, "Spring" 6, 8). The speaker seems to characterize Margaret's grief as one part of a larger, universal pattern of human growth—emphasized through impersonal terms such as "the heart"—giving an account of maturity that seems implicitly to include Hopkins's reader (5, emphasis mine). The reader's feeling that the speaker attempts to account for her experience as well enhances her sense that the speaker's account aims for universality.
By inviting the reader to identify with his universal account of mourning—which Margaret represents—Hopkins's speaker emphasizes seemingly universal aspects of Margaret's mourning and the way that all encounters with loss remind us of our own inevitable deaths.
The speaker universalizes both the process of maturing and the sources of mourning—maturing always involves a loss of innocence and sensitivity to loss, and mourning always implies a response to one's own death. Although the speaker acknowledges that, in the process of maturing, people stop mourning for losses that they come to see as trivial, he emphasizes that "[s]órrow's spríngs áre all the same" (G.
Hopkins, "Spring" 11). All mourning shares the same exigence—the mourner's own losses, especially the ultimate loss of her own life. The speaker suggests that all mourning is essentially for one's own mortality, "no matter" what "name" is given to mourning or towards what external loss it seems to be addressed (G. Hopkins, "Spring" 10). All encounters with loss that evoke mourning, whatever form that mourning may take, thus imply the mourner's response to her own mortality. All loss implicitly reminds us of our own death, Hopkins suggests.
Frost seems to agree with Hopkins that all loss reminds us of our own deaths, and, as in Hopkins's poem, synecdoche plays a crucial role in Frost's argument. Frost uses synecdoche to identify all kinds of particular losses with each other, including the loss of our own lives, our own mortality. For Frost's speaker, the transition from nature's "early," golden flower in spring to the "green... leaf" it becomes synecdochally symbolizes all loss ("Nothing" 2, 1, 5). The poem conveys a synecdochal logic as its descriptions expand from the loss of the flower to the loss of leaves, the loss of Eden, the original—even universal—loss in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Not only does the flower's transition into a leaf seem to symbolize all forms of loss implicit in change (as Sister M. Bernetta Quinn suggests, the poem is about "transience" (622)), but also each line of the poem itself seems to represent the poem's message about loss writ small.
Donald C. Freeman characterizes "Nothing Gold Can Stay" as "a hologram... a poem in which each of the smallest subparts means the same as the whole" (131). For example, the line "Then leaf subsides to leaf" seems to convey the loss of the flower turning into a leaf, the loss of green leaves turning gold and dying in autumn, and the loss that is always invoked through identification (Frost, "Nothing" 5). Frost's repetition of the word "leaf" seems to equate the two words and their referents, suggesting that, at least on the level of diction, there is no loss—as if the speaker is trying to resist the very phenomena of loss and change that he describes. Even though word "leaf" is repeated, the first instance seems to refer both to the flower as the "early" leaf and to the leaf that the flower becomes, which itself will become the dying autumn leaf. Frost demonstrates that even one thing changes and undergoes loss, and that even our attempts to identify similar things simply de-emphasize the loss or separation that endures. Line five thus seems to function synecdochally in relation to the entire poem, much like the speaker views the flower as synecdochally representative of all loss—much like Hopkins's speaker views Margaret, the "daisy," as synecdochally representative of all human mourning (Wardi 245).
Synecdoche defines Frost's "artistic approach," as Quinn, and Sanders and Vogel indicate, and Ping and Reed suggest this trope embodies the poetic project when they quote Samuel Hazo: "True poets see the man in the one and vice versa so that their focus is always on whatness, not muchness" (Hazo qtd. in Ping and Reed 119). Through synecdoche, Frost illustrates that all presence implies its own loss and absence. When we read Frost alongside Hopkins, we see Frost affirming that loss reminds us of our own deaths, of Eden's "grief" and our mortality ("Nothing" 6). The "sense of loss," including the awareness of our own deaths, and "sorrow" that "Nothing Gold Can Stay" leaves with its reader can invoke further losses, Hopkins suggests, especially the loss of connection with others (Sanders and Vogel 239; Ping and Reed 119).
Loss, Death, and Narcissism People are fundamentally separated from others, Hopkins indicates, not only in the universal experience of death, but also in mourning, an emotion that disconnects us from others because it is ultimately self-oriented and can never be purely about the other.
The paradoxical tension between all mourning's universal exigence and all mourners' essentially self-oriented grief resonates in the final lines: "It ís the blight man was born for/It is Margaret you mourn for" (G. Hopkins, "Spring" 14-15). Situating Margaret as a synecdochal figure for "man" in the universal sense, these lines argue that Margaret, like all people, mourns ultimately for herself, for her own mortality (G. Hopkins, "Spring" 14). By naming her specifically, Hopkins emphasizes her individuality in its separation and isolation from other people. The "blight" of humankind thus first includes the condition of mortality, and second, includes the condition of mourning primarily for oneself (Hopkins 14). Mortality and self-oriented mourning both describe the condition of being disconnected from other people. If all mourning truly is about oneself, then that condition implies that people, who cannot genuinely mourn or appreciate others' absences, may not be able genuinely to appreciate others' presences as well. Mourning seems to reveal a condition of separation from or the loss of connection with others that defines personhood for Hopkins's speaker. This condition of separation seems to insinuate itself to us in encounters with loss and death.
Self-oriented mourning and its attendant condition of separation seem to imply that mourning entails a narcissistic attitude toward the world. In his cornerstone work, The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats, Peter Sacks describes narcissism as an integral part of the Freudian "work of mourning," explaining that mourners may revert back to an infantile state of narcissism in response to "the threat of death" emphasized by the loss of a loved one (10).4 Sacks's Freudian version of narcissism refers to a state in which the loss of a love object has disrupted the mourner's healthy recognition of and emotional attachment to external reality. When loss severs the mourner's emotional attachment to the love object, which is no longer there, the mourner may re-attach her emotions to her own self instead of to an external object, conflating her internal ego with external reality. This projection of her ego and emotions onto external reality results in narcissism as a self-centered view of—and emotional response to—the world. Hopkins suggests that Margaret's mourning, like all mourning, is narcissistic by claiming that she mourns only for herself—that her emotional attachment