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“My Lost Youth” by Longfellow

A curious thing about writing a poem is how it can suggest to the reader a topic while subtly communicating a tangent. Recently I was being peppered by questions of attribution in security that reminded me of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem:


		My Lost Youth

OFTEN I think of the beautiful town	 
  That is seated by the sea;	 
Often in thought go up and down	 
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,	 
  And my youth comes back to me.			5
    And a verse of a Lapland song	 
    Is haunting my memory still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,		10
  And catch, in sudden gleams,	 
The sheen of the far-surrounding seas,	 
And islands that were the Hesperides	 
  Of all my boyish dreams.	 
    And the burden of that old song,			15
    It murmurs and whispers still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
I remember the black wharves and the slips,	 
  And the sea-tides tossing free;			20
And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,	 
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,	 
  And the magic of the sea.	 
    And the voice of that wayward song	 
    Is singing and saying still:			25
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
I remember the bulwarks by the shore,	 
  And the fort upon the hill;	 
The sunrise gun with its hollow roar,			30
The drum-beat repeated o'er and o'er,	 
  And the bugle wild and shrill.	 
    And the music of that old song	 
    Throbs in my memory still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,			35
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
I remember the sea-fight far away,	 
  How it thunder'd o'er the tide!	 
And the dead sea-captains, as they lay	 
In their graves o'erlooking the tranquil bay		40
  Where they in battle died.	 
    And the sound of that mournful song	 
    Goes through me with a thrill:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	45
 
I can see the breezy dome of groves,	 
  The shadows of Deering's woods;	 
And the friendships old and the early loves	 
Come back with a Sabbath sound, as of doves	 
  In quiet neighbourhoods.				50
    And the verse of that sweet old song,	 
    It flutters and murmurs still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
I remember the gleams and glooms that dart		55
  Across the schoolboy's brain;	 
The song and the silence in the heart,	 
That in part are prophecies, and in part	 
  Are longings wild and vain.	 
    And the voice of that fitful song			60
    Sings on, and is never still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
There are things of which I may not speak;	 
  There are dreams that cannot die;			65
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,	 
And bring a pallor into the cheek,	 
  And a mist before the eye.	 
    And the words of that fatal song	 
    Come over me like a chill:				70
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
Strange to me now are the forms I meet	 
  When I visit the dear old town;	 
But the native air is pure and sweet,			75
And the trees that o'ershadow each well-known street,	 
  As they balance up and down,	 
    Are singing the beautiful song,	 
    Are sighing and whispering still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,			80
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	 
 
And Deering's woods are fresh and fair,	 
  And with joy that is almost pain	 
My heart goes back to wander there,	 
And among the dreams of the days that were		85
  I find my lost youth again.	 
    And the strange and beautiful song,	 
    The groves are repeating it still:	 
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,	 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'	90

This could happen anywhere, despite being about a specific place. Supposedly in 1855 he set out to describe an idyllic life in Portland, Oregon. And yet what city “beautiful town that is seated by the sea” does not have “pleasant streets” with “shadowy lines of its trees”? Is anyone surprised to hear of an old American shipping town with “black wharves and the slips” below “the fort upon the hill”?

Even more to the point, after a long vague description leaving the reader without any unique Portlandish details, the writer admits “there are things of which I may not speak”. Vague by design?

Ok, then, decoding the poem to suggests a series of fleeting (pun not intended) feelings that defy direct attribution to a particular city. Action words give away bundles of emotion from a young boy excited by a generalized theory of adventure. No real location is meant, which leaves instead the importance of stanza action lines (7th); they seem to unlock a message about generic youthful rotations: haunting, murmurs, singing, throbs, goes, flutters, sings, come, sighing, repeating. “Lost youth” indeed….

Posted in Poetry, Security.


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