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I imagine that for parents one of the most difficult teaching moments is helping a young child understand death, particularly the death of someone they love. Singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant (if you are of a certain age, you may remember her from her 10,000 Maniacs days) found herself in just this position with her young daughter. Natalie's closest friend who spent a lot of time with the Merchant family died and in the midst of her own pain she was looking for ways to talk about death with her daughter. She used Spring and Fall, a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins and her music to create a hauntingly beautiful song.
Spring and Fall
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
But as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Through worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child the name:
Sorrow's springs are all the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Priest and Poet
Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th century Welsh poet "discovered" Catholicism through the writings of John Henry Newman and it was Newman who received him into the Church. He then entered the Society of Jesus and was ordained a Jesuit in 1877. Hopkins the priest and poet wrote what some call the best poetry of the Victorian era. Hopkins believed "that the world is charged with the grandeur of God" and has gift for looking at life through the eyes of God.
Merchant has produced an album called Leave Your Sleep that uses children's poetry to help youngsters make sense of life's most vexing challenges. In Hopkins's poem she finds both the right feeling and the right images to guide a child through the loss of someone they love.