Introducing Goldengrove Unleaving

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 & by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep & 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.

— Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Spring and Fall: to a young child”

I’ve just cast on the first major knitted thing I’ve ever designed myself: the Goldengrove Unleaving stole. Looking back at my blog archives, I can see I’ve had the idea for this project since at least December 2010, and I know I was thinking that “Goldengrove Unleaving” would make a good name for something before that. I knew from the outset that Goldengrove would be a rectangular stole, featuring leaf lace motifs, and that it would be in a color suggesting yellow and orange autumn leaves. Last summer I found the yarn for it: the unbelievably soft Malabrigo Lace (“Is this cashmere?” a friend asked, when I showed her a test swatch I’d knitted; it’s not, actually, just super-soft merino wool), in a golden-orange colorway called “Sunset”:

Malabrigo lace yarn in "Sunset"

I never used to think of orange as one of my favorite colors, but I’ve been increasingly drawn to it in recent years, and this particular shade just makes me happy. Especially when I’m handling the dreamily soft yarn.

Fall is one of my favorite seasons, but there’s always a lurking sadness about it. You’re aware of the inevitable end of the riot of color.* Which is why the Hopkins poem has always haunted me, because it’s about the early intensity of that feeling, and the additional sadness of knowing how years of experience diminish that intensity. (And also the impossibility of representing it: “nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed…”) So when I started thinking about designing a project around this poem, I thought about how to visually represent both the leaves and their decay, the “leafmeal” that marks the end of fall. For the latter, I had an early idea involving eyelets scattered to look like leaves drifting downward and covering the forest floor; I’ve drawn inspiration from the Hanami Stole by Melanie Gibbons and from Kalinumba’s Antarctic Stole, and the design now features two panels of drifting eyelets.

As for the leaves themselves, I struggled a bit over that. There’s a lot of “leaf lace” that’s basically variations on a diamond shape with some eyelet holes running down it. It’s pretty, but to my eye it’s too abstract, and I wanted something a bit more unusual for this project. I chose Drooping Elm lace for the side panels, because it actually does look like leaves; but I wanted something more, preferably something to suggest oak leaves.** I trawled around the web and through pattern books for some time, looking for oak patterns, and eventually I came across some I liked. The central panel of Goldengrove uses the Oak Leaves 2 cable pattern available from Knittingfool. You can see the Oak Leaves and Drooping Elm patterns in my test swatch:

Swatching "Goldengrove Unleaving" (daily photo, 4/21/12)

So now the task is to actually finish the thing, writing up the pattern and charting it as I go. This will be an adventure, as the Oak Leaf cable has a different number of stitches in practically every row, and involves some complicated crossovers and bobbly bits. You can follow my progress at Ravelry; I intend to share the pattern, once I’m satisfied with it.

Perhaps when I’ve finished this stole I’ll continue on my leaf kick and make something inspired by medieval Green Man carvings. But I think I’ll stick with Hopkins for a while, because I’ve got a very clear idea in my head for what the Inversnaid pullover is going to look like. Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet!


* I also considered calling this stole “Lothlórien,” because Tolkien’s gold-leaved forest is another place that’s haunted my imagination for years with the same blend of beauty and melancholy.

** No one knows whether Hopkins was thinking of a real place when he wrote this poem. Critics have suggested an actual Golden Grove in Carmarthenshire in Wales, and a country estate in Flintshire with a Golden Grove on it. So no one knows what kinds of trees he was imagining. I particularly wanted to include an oak-leaf motif because Hopkins writes about them so vividly elsewhere, as in this journal entry from July 1866: “I have now found the law of the oak leaves. It is of platter-shaped stars altogether; the leaves lie close like pages, packed, and as if drawn tightly together.”


3 Responses to “Introducing Goldengrove Unleaving”

  1. Martha says:

    That is so beautiful! I look forward to seeing more.

  2. rr says:

    This is so exciting. I too have a leaf thing. If you need test knitters…..

  3. Shelley says:

    Beautiful handiwork.

    As a poet, I can’t think of a poem that more succinctly and heartbreakingly reminds us of what’s so hard about being mortal.