"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Poetry: “Spring and Fall” by Gerard Manly Hopkins, Part 2

A friend of mine, Kerry, read my post of the Hopkins poem from the other day, “Spring and Fall” and questioned my comment on accents in English.  This led me to contemplation, a little research, and enough of new thoughts to create a second post.  First let me present our email exchange and then I’ll have to modify my comment on accenting.

 So just read your latest piece.  Interesting thought on the accent.  You mention preferring to let the language run naturally, but what is naturally?  As I watch more and more British television, I notice that the syllables stressed in English English is different than American English and even Scottish English and Irish English.  So natural for whom?

Hmm good question.  I'm not aware of stress differences.  I thought the differences between American and English English are vowel sounds.  I'll have to look into that.

The one standing out in my mind right now is garage.

Holy smoke, you're right.  There are stress differences between the two.  Check here:

I knew it!  See... all that BBC America watching is paying off.  Plus my "Mock the week" viewing on YouTube.  I do not know how to write out the accent though.  Just that when we say garage it is more of "ga rage" versus British "gar age"

Apparently the British tend to accent the first syllable while we accent the second on most two letter words that have a French origin.  So they must say GAHrage  while we say gaRAGE.  The accent does effect the vowel pronunciation.

I was surprise to find that on certain type of words, the pronunciation differences between British English and American English is not only vowel sounds, but actual syllabic stress differences.  I was so surprised that I went back to my graduate class text book (I never throw textbooks out) on the evolution of the English language to see what it said about this.  I have The Origins and Development of the English Language, Third Edition by Thomas Pyles and John Algeo published back in 1982.  I wonder when I took the class.  Must have been some time in the 1990s.  You can find later editions on Amazon.  Now to vindicate my original thought, Pyles and Algeo have a whole chapter on British and American language differences and while they do go through vowel pronunciation differences, they never mention differences due to syllabic stress.  Apparently they didn’t think this a significant issue.

Granted the stress differences seem to be mostly on French loan words.  What’s interesting (and counter intuitive to me) is that the American stresses follow the French stress pattern of second syllable stress, while it’s the British that have altered the French pattern by pulling the stress to the first syllable.  Two reasons why that might be, and this is speculation on my part.  But first some context.  Pyles and Algeo do go through the history of French words entering English, and it has an interesting history.  French words entered English in periodic waves.  Prior to 1066, no French words had entered the language, but with the subsequent Norman Conquest a large number of French words not only came in but became prominent, since French became the language of the aristocracy.  French loan words that entered into the language during the middle ages over time became synthesized into English.  That should not be a surprise given the Great Vowel Shift that dramatically altered English pronunciation during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  It is noteworthy that those French loan words are accented similarly between Americans and British. 

The differences in syllabic stress seem to be in words that came into English during the seventeenth centuries and later.  This shouldn’t be a surprise.  British Americans had settled the colonies by then and their language was evolving.  Actually, to be more precise, both the English  language of the old country and the English language of the colonies were evolving, and to some degree evolving separately.  The British speech of the eighteenth century, say that of Samuel Johnson, is markedly different than that of the sixteenth century, say of William Shakespeare.  Pyles and Algeo make the claim, and I’ve seen the claim elsewhere, that American English is actually closer to Shakespeare’s English than today’s British English.

My two speculations as to why Americans stress these later French loan words as the French while the British changed the stress are as follows.  (1) First these words probably came into the language through England, and the Americans probably first came in contact with these new loan words through print.  Since there was no audio to spread pronunciation, the Americans observing the etymology assumed French-esk pronunciation.  (2) The colonies had more direct contact with French than the British in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  What is today our Midwest was part of the Louisiana Purchase, a French colony which the US bought from Napoleon in 1803.  In addition, our northern states had a large French settlement, a remnant of the French and Indian War (1754-63), as Quebec does today in Canada.  Given this closer contact with French speakers, it perhaps should not be a surprise that American English follows the French stressing of these late French loan words.

So how does this change how to look at the Hopkins poem.  Since it’s short enough, let me post it again.

Spring and Fall
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
           to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás 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:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre 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.

In the previous post I said Hopkins’ accents would not have altered my pronunciation of any of the words.  My friend Kerry questioned whether my pronunciation would be consistent for all English speakers, especially British speakers.  Hopkins obviously would have been a British speaker, so possibly he might have pronounced those words differently without the accents and then felt the need to add them.

Hopkins accents nine syllables over eight words in the poem.  Let’s look at each of them.

He accents Margaret on the first and third syllables, “Márgarét.”  Here is possibly the one word where Hopkins accenting makes a difference to the poem.  The name happens to be a French loan word, but it’s an old French dating back to circa 1300.  Dictionary offers two pronunciation alternates, mahr-guh-rit, or mahr-grit and the Collins dictionary offers a British alternative, ːɡrət.  By Hopkins accenting the first and third syllables, he is making clear he wants all three syllables pronounced, wants the first syllable to be accented as one would, but by accenting the last syllable wants the “ret” sound rather than a weakened “rit” sound.  As I mentioned in Part 1, the “ret” sound rhymes nicely with the “and yet” of the ninth line.

Hopkins accents “are” in the first line.  The reason I think he accents this little word is to force the reader articulate the line, “ARE you grieving” instead of “are YOU grieving.”  Does it matter?  The only result that I see is a different pacing to word flow.  And what difference does that make?

Hopkins accents the first syllable of grieving in that first line, “gríeving.”  Does it matter?  How else would you pronounce this?  Again I don’t see why it should. 

Hopkins accents the first syllable of “leaves” in the third line, “Leáves.”  I have no idea why he does.  How else would you pronounce this? 

Hopkins accents “as” in the fifth line.  The only reason I can see for doing so is to prevent the reader from pronouncing “as the heart” as an anapest, two unstressed syllables followed by a stress (uu/).  He wants the iambic (/u/) meter in that line.  Does it matter?  Given he doesn’t hold constant meter anyway, I don’t see why it would.

Hopkins accents the first syllable of sorrow’s in the eleventh line, “Sórrow’s.”  Sorrow is an Old English word and both alternative pronunciation already accent that first syllable, sor-oh, sawr-oh.  Again, I don’t see why the accent would be needed.

Hopkins accents springs in the eleventh line.  Again, I’m at a loss as to what difference it makes.  It’s a strong one syllable word that under all conditions would be pronounced with an accent.

Hopkins accents “are” again in the eleventh line.  Here again he’s trying to prevent an anapest meter, “are the SAME” (uu/) and forcing a cretic meter, “ARE the SAME (/u/).  Does it matter?

After all this analysis, my original position still holds.  Other than the accenting on Márgarét, Hopkins could have done away with the accenting.  They don’t add anything to the poem.

Here, it’s a joy to listen to the poem well read. 


  1. Manny, thank you for inviting me to read this post and É, I am glad that YA found another friend cause truth be known É, we never really have enough of them.

    As for what I might think of our French language and their accents, Ça fais pas de différence and YA might notice that the word différence means difference in English... Long story short, I guess that it is all about what we know and/or not know... to sum it up, I'll call "IT" "Respect" of each others Language.

    I still recall, still recall the battle of hasting which took place in 1066 but don't ask me what it was all about cause É, Good Old Dad only knows.

    As I was going to say, "I" was never any good with these French Accents and truth be known even though I came in second place during a bunch of French Concour Français in grade five... let me tell YA what happened back then and then I will close...lol

    Don't tell any body cell's who have not been born yet during eternity but back then, I had to repeat grade five... well our family was very poor and my parents were so busy working and trying to keep my other siblings in line so I took advantage and didn't do any home work at all and so they failed me but I was still learning... Anyway! I'm now thinking that Saint Paul must have had His Eyes on me cause É, "I" was going to His school?... He must have gotten one of His Angel Teacher to tell me that I was in second place with one exam remaining and "I" was also only four points away from first place... I was told that if I went to church and prayed, ( back then, I was an altar boy serving High Mass) "I" could make "IT" to "First" place... go figure... instead of going to church "I" played marbles after school and long story short "I" still kept my second place after the final exam... at the end first place was still ahead by only four point.

    I'm going to spare your readers and not tell YA that the first place finish her, "I" mean the guy who finished first completed his university and before he got married was one of my best friend and believe "IT" or not, him and is wife are still God Parents to our youngest daughter... É, "I" wasn't suppose to tell YA that but what the heck, no body cell's are perfect and I'M sure that the jury with disreguard what "I" just said.

    I hear YA Man! We always make an effort to disreguard what you say, I mean we always try to forgive you Victor...lol

    God Bless

  2. LOL, great story. You must be kind of old if you were playing marbles after school. They stopped doing that way before I was a kid. Or maybe they didn't play marbles in Brooklyn where I grew up. I kind of remember playing dice at seven years old. (Nah, I'm kidding...lol)

    1. ((( I kind of remember playing dice at seven years old )))

      Hey Manny, believe it or not I set up a full prove system by myself, for myself on the crap table in the early nineties when we went to Las Vegas with my wife. Long story short, we had to play a minimal amount of $5.00 on every role for eight hours and then we got our meals free with a bonus of $100.oo also on completion. With this system, you won't make much money but you won't lose any of yours... but then again the poker gods may have been with me cause I took my winning to the roulette wheel and made another $150.00

      I probably shouldn't tell you about our last trip to Hawaii and on the boat they had a little tournament of Texas Hold'em every day and on the first day I came in second and also on the second day which was a sum of $350.00 each time... I'm not trying to be paranoid but I started to think that maybe some wanted to get to know me cause the people in charge allowed us to play every day after and before the tournament ...go figure, they had an electronic dealer and I teased them a little by saying stuff in so many words that the alien angel god dealer did not like them cause they were jut to insulting when they lost a hand... Truth be known, I only played cause it was their money and I still left with about another $150.00 dollars of their money. It was kind of funny because I always sat at the same seat but on the last two days, one guy took it probably thinking that it was a lucky seat I guess.

      Hey Manny I really don't play any regular poker cause I find it too addictive meaning that it gives me a high but like they say, I know when to stop... For what it is worth, I was a black Jack dealer for about three years but it was for a charity casino.

      I won't tell you about the trip we took to a casino in Michigan cause you wouldn't believe the luck that I had on the roulette wheel cause I still don't know what happen cause my wife used my system but lost her money. Not that I won a lot of money but everyone else was losing theirs and I'll never forget one guy after having lost hundreds of dollars and I was winning and he said as he was leaving for the second time.. Whow! Just Whow! while shaking his head while looking at me because my numbers just came up so often...

      I better stop before I go on another tangent...

      I hear YA! Maybe there are Poker gods Victor...lol

      God Bless

  3. The British Isles are geographically speaking a small area of land, yet over here we have many accents. Sometimes only miles apart people speak differently. Edinburgh and Glasgow for instance. There's a great difference between the Irish and Welsh accent as well as London's cockney and the way they speak in Liverpool, Birmingham, Norfolk, Cornwall or many other places.

    I've noticed even our animals have accents. A dog in Glasgow would bark "Woof woof och aye!" whereas in posh Buckingham he would say "Please keep oaf our premises my good fellow ... what?"

    When British birds migrate to Europe for winter they are recognised by their fellow creatures by their bowler hats and umbrellas as well as their distinctive British tweets.

    God bless.

    1. LOL. It is amazing how varied the accents are in Britain, much more so than in the US despite how spread apart we are here.