My Lost Youth by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

‘My Lost Youth’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a lyric meditating upon the poet’s youthful days. It was a glorious time of his life when he was as fresh as dew and as energetic as sea tides.

The poem is about the memories that are associated with the Longfellow’s youth. The beautiful town where he was born and several places of his native place are still fresh in his mind. He often revisits those memories to relive the past. But, there are some episodes in his memory that make him sad. While some are so lovely that even lights up his mind. However, in between those thoughts, some lines of the “Lapland Song” resonates within him. It reminds him that “the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

My Lost Youth by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

Summary of My Lost Youth

‘My Lost Youth’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a recapitulation of the days of the poet’s youth and contains a vivid description of the poet’s native place Portland, Maine.

The poetic persona of the poem starts with a description of the old town where once he lived. The streets of the town, tossing of the sea waves, and the woods surrounding the town, are what he sees in his imagination. He becomes a boy again and captures those memories. The poet can recall how his boyish imagination made everything gleaming during his youth. More, there are a lot of other memories that appear in this poem. Lastly, the poet talks about how his town looks like when he visits it nowadays. The freshness of the town and the gleaming leaves of the Deering wood still captivates his heart. But, the old song somehow rings through his mind. The days of youth pass away like the wind. What remains, is a half-hearted recapitulation of the memories.

 

Meaning

The title of the poem, ‘My Lost Youth’, refers to Longfellow’s youth. Longfellow was once a boy, brimming with the vigor of youthfulness. But, in the present moment, while he thinks about his boyish days, he can see only vacant memories. It was he who made those places described in the poem colorful. When he thinks of those days, he can see the places. But, the boy is absent in those memories. Hence, through the title, the poet says that his youthful memories are still there but the boy has passed away. Apart from that, from the title, it also becomes clear that the poet is referring to the phase of youth. As he has grown old, his youth has lost its way in the alleyways of time.

 

Structure

The poem consists of a total of ten stanzas. Each stanza contains nine lines in it. The rhyme scheme of the poem is regular yet interesting. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAABCDDE and goes on like this. The internal rhyming of the lines maintains the overall flow of the text. However, the metrical pattern of the poem doesn’t follow a set pattern. There are both the iambic meter and anapestic meter in the poem. A few variations are there in the poem. In some lines, the poet uses trochaic feet. Whereas, some feet of the poem are spondees. As an example, “long thoughts” is a spondee. Whatsoever, the whole poem is written from a first-person point-of-view. That’s why it’s an example of a lyric poem.

 

Literary Devices

There are several literary devices in the poem, ‘My Lost Youth’ that make the remembrances of the poet’s past more appealing to the readers. Likewise, the poem begins with a personification. In the first stanza, the poet personifies his old town. The poet uses anaphora throughout the poem. This device connects the sense of the lines in which it’s used. Thereafter, each stanza of the poem has a refrain at the end of it. These quoted lines contain an allusion to an old folk song of Lapland. Moreover, the quotation contains a tautology and alliteration as well. Apart from that, there is a metaphor in the second stanza in the “Hesperides of all my boyish dreams.” There are several other metaphors in this poem.

The poet also uses onomatopoeia here. It can be found in the words such as “murmurs” and “whispers”. Thereafter, there is a simile in the lines, “Come back with a Sabbath sound, as of doves/ In quiet neighborhoods.” Moreover, the poet also uses metonymy and synecdoche in this poem.

 

Themes

In this poem, ‘My Lost Youth’ there are some important themes such as youth, adulthood vs youth, memories, time, love, pain, and longing. The most important theme of the poem is youth. Here, the poet talks about his youthful days when he was young both physically and mentally. Everything then seemed to be joyous and mysterious to the poet. But, now when he visualizes those memories he can only feel the current, not the warmth of youthfulness. Thereafter, the theme of childhood memories is there. The poet uses the stream-of-consciousness technique for presenting the chain of thoughts regarding his youth. Moreover, the themes of love, pain, and longing are there throughout the poem. Apart from that, nature forms the basis of his imagery. Hence, the theme of natural beauty is also there in this poem by Longfellow.

 

Analysis of My Lost Youth

Stanza One

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.

            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.”

Longfellow’s ‘My Lost Youth’ begins with the description of the poet’s old town in Portland, Maine. The poet thinks of the beautiful town that is seated by the sea. He often revisits the town in his imagination. In his thought, he goes up and down the pleasant streets of that old town. The streets are dearer to the poet still. Thereafter, he says that in the thoughts he gets his youth back. Along with that, “a verse of a Lapland song” haunts his memory. Thereafter, he quotes two lines of that song. The association of those lines in the poem creates a contrast between his imagination and reality.

However, the lines say a boy’s will is the wind’s will. It means that a boy is like a wind in thinking. He never stops or halts. Like the wind, he paves the way through all the difficulties and moves forward without much care about the past. Thereafter, the song says, the thoughts of youth are long. The repetition of the word “long” is important here. It means that when one’s youth is gone, the person is then left with prolonged thoughts. The sense of longing for the days of youth keeps one indulged with such thoughts.

 

Stanza Two

I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,

      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,

            It murmurs and whispers still:

      “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

In the second stanza, the poet says he can clearly see the shadowy lines of the trees of the town. In sudden gleams, he captures the shining water of the “far-surrounding” seas. So, the sea is far enough and encircles the town. There are a few islands on the sea. In his boyhood, the poet thought the islands were like Hesperides. Hesperides is a mythical garden at the very western limits of the world. The earth offered them to Hera when she married Zeus. Thereafter, he again hears that old song murmuring and whispering in his ear. The song makes him aware of his age. It feels like a “burden” as it reminds the poet that his youth has gone.

 

Stanza Three

I remember the black wharves and the slips,

      And the sea-tides tossing free;

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:

      “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

Thereafter, in the third stanza, the poet remembers the black wharves and the slips. And, the sea tides that are tossing free on the wharves. He can also visualize the Spanish sailors, their lips covered with beards. When the poet was a boy, the beauty and mystery of the ships anchored nearby and the magic of the sea mesmerized him. Suddenly, his daydreaming comes to an end as the voice of that wayward song resonates in his mind again. Someone is singing these lines, “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,/ And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.” One can understand, it’s none other than the poet’s mind.

 

Stanza Four

I remember the bulwarks by the shore,

      And the fort upon the hill;

The sunrise gun, with its hollow roar,

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,

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

In the fourth stanza of ‘My Lost Youth’, Longfellow calls up the bulwarks by the shore and the fort situated upon the hill. Thereafter, he presents the image of the sunrise. Here, the poet personifies the sun and invests it with the idea of roaring. Its roar sounds hollow. Moreover, the “hollow roar” symbolizes the concept of “lost youth”. Apart from that, the poet can hear the beating of the drum and the shrill sound of the bugle. Such auditory images reflect that the poet was close to nature. He can even feel the resonance of those sounds. However, at the end of this stanza, the poet refers to the old song that throbs in his memory still.

 

Stanza Five

I remember the sea-fight far away,

      How it thundered o’er the tide!

And the dead captains, as they lay

In their graves, o’erlooking the tranquil bay,

      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.”

The fifth stanza of the poem alludes to the “sea-fight” of 1813, between the US ship Enterprise and the British ship Boxer, near Portland Harbour. The battle led to the deaths of both captains, who were buried side-by-side in Munjoy Hill cemetery. The poet says he can remember the sea-fight that happened far away. Using an exclamation in “How it thundered o’er the tide!”, the poet refers to his boyish fascination with the battle. Thereafter, he refers to the graves of dead captains and says that they are now overlooking the tranquil bay.

However, this time the poet refers to the old song as the “mournful song” that goes through him with a thrill. The use of the word depicts the poet’s state of mind. As he has grown up, those boyish fascinations have faded away from his heart. Now, he can only mourn the absence of his youth.

 

Stanza Six

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 neighborhoods.

            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.”

In the sixth stanza, Longfellow visualizes the “breezy dome of the groves.” Here, the poet uses a metaphor of a “breezy dome” to compare it with the groves. The dense trees appear like a dome. Thereafter, he refers to the shadows of the Deering Woods. It is a wooded parkland in modern Portland, Maine. Along with the images, the poet thinks about the old friendships and the early loves that come back silently. Here, the poet uses another metaphor to depict the quality of the sound. It is like the “Sabbath sound”. For making it clear, he uses a simile and compares this sound with the sound of the doves in quiet neighborhoods.

Moreover, the sound isn’t clear. It seems the poet is becoming emotional with the thoughts. Hence the sound seems hazy and muted. Again, at the end of this stanza, the sweet old song flutters and murmurs in the poet’s imagination.

 

Stanza Seven

I remember the gleams and glooms that dart

      Across the school-boy’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

            Sings on, and is never still:

      “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

Longfellow can remember the gleaming and gloomy thoughts that came across in the poet’s brain. The poet was a mere school-boy then. But, he can remember those thoughts along with the songs and silences in the heart. Some of his boyish imaginations sound like “prophecies”. Whereas some thoughts are only wild and vain longings of a boy. Amid this introspection, the “fitful song” still rings the same tune. The song is never still as if it somehow wants to alert the poet. If he loses track of reality, the song is there to remind him of the harsh truth.

 

Stanza Eight

There are things of which I may not speak;

      There are dreams that cannot die;

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:

      “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

In the eighth stanza of ‘My Lost Youth’, the poet says there are things of which he may not speak. As it is something that is rather to be felt. There are some dreams of his youth that cannot die. Some thoughts are that even make his strong heart weak and make his cheek pale. It seems to be a reference to lost love or some family problems. However, those memories bring mist before his eyes and take him away from reality. At this critical juncture, the lyrics of that “fatal song” come over him like a chilling wind. It makes him aware of reality. For the constant resonance of the song the poet never submits to those memories. Rather he visualizes them as a calm observer.

 

Stanza Nine

Strange to me now are the forms I meet

      When I visit the dear old town;

But the native air is pure and sweet,

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,

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

In this stanza, the poet steps out of his imagination and confronts reality. The poet says now when he visits the old town, the forms he meets in the street seem strange to him. But, the native air is still as pure and sweet as before. The trees overshadow the streets that are known to the poet. They balance up and down while singing the beautiful song. Here, the poet personifies the trees. He thinks that the trees are sighing and whispering the song. In reality, it is his mind, the source of all his emotions, and the resonance of the old song as well.

 

Stanza Ten

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,

      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.”

In the last stanza, the poet presents the image of the Derring’s Woods that are also fresh and fair like the air of his old town. His heart leaps up with joy when he goes back to wander there. But there is a pain in his heart as he can’t be a boy again. Moreover, the poet says in such dreamy sequences he finds his lost youth again. Thereafter, the poet uses the refrain. This time, the groves are repeating this song reminding him about reality. Here, the poet refers to this song as strange yet at the same time as beautiful.

 

Historical Context

The poem ‘My Last Youth’ contains several references to the poet’s native town, Portland, Maine. During one of his visits to Portland in 1846, Longfellow relates how he took a long walk around Munjoy’s hill and down to the old Fort Lawrence. Longfellow says,

I lay down in one of the embrasures and listened to the lashing, lulling sound of the just at my feet. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the harbor was full of white sails, coming, and departing. Meditated a poem on the Old Fort.

During that time, he didn’t write any poem regarding this theme. However, in 1855, when in Cambridge, he notes in his diary, March 29:

A day of pain; cowering over the fire. At night, as I lie in bed, a poem comes into my mind, – a memory of Portland, – my native town, the city by the sea.

On March 30, he notes:

Wrote the poem; and am rather pleased with it, and with the bringing in of the two lines of the old Lapland song,

A boy’s will is the wind’s will,

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.

So, it was after 9 years from the visit to his hometown, Portland, Maine, he composed this poem, ‘My Lost Youth’.

 

Similar Poetry

The following poems are similar to the theme and subject matter of Longfellow‘s poem.

You can read about 10 of the Best Poems about Childhood here.

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About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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