The poem, ‘Youth and Age’, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is said to be one of the most romantic poems in which he presents a contrast between youth and old age. Through this poem, the poet has tried to explain how different these two stages of our lives are. Where one is like a budding flower, the other is like the dawn. In order to present these two stages of life, the poet used many beautiful images.
Youth and Age Analysis
Verse, a breeze mid blossoms straying,
Where Hope clung feeding, like a bee—
Both were mine! Life went a-maying
With Nature, Hope, and Poesy,
When I was young!
As we read through the very first stanza of ‘Youth and Age’, it comes to our knowledge that the poet has attached all the positive things in life with youth. Plus, with the use of some powerful imagery, the poet has brought home to us all the joys and liberties that he enjoyed when he was young. Everything appeared to be good that could be achieved easily, the poet was full of aspiring dreams and hopes for the future. The world appeared to be good and the poet was filled with new vigor and vitality. Through his great imaginative powers, Coleridge has succeeded in capturing the joys of youth.
When I was young?—Ah, woful When!
Ah! for the change ‘twixt Now and Then!
This breathing house not built with hands,
This body that does me grievous wrong,
O’er aery cliffs and glittering sands,
How lightly then it flashed along:—
Like those trim skiffs, unknown of yore,
On winding lakes and rivers wide,
That ask no aid of sail or oar,
That fear no spite of wind or tide!
Nought cared this body for wind or weather
When Youth and I lived in’t together.
In the above lines of ‘Youth and Age’, we see the poet again reminiscing very woefully about the time gone by. He still remembers the time when he was young. And with a heavy heart, he goes over the changes time had brought in him, changes brought about in his body. So, here we find that using his imaginative skills, Coleridge has succeeded in capturing the helplessness of old age. The poet remembers that in his youth he had all the blessings one could wish for. He was full of vitality and led an active life.
He says that just like those small but swift yachts that go about on the lakes and rivers, without taking any help. In the same way, nothing used to affect him nor did he have any worries concerning his surroundings. Because when we are young we are full of health and vitality with never even thought about getting unwell whereas in old age everything, our mental and physical health both, is a downhill task.
Flowers are lovely; Love is flower-like;
Friendship is a sheltering tree;
O! the joys, that came down shower-like,
Of Friendship, Love, and Liberty,
Ere I was old!
Ere I was old? Ah woful Ere,
Which tells me, Youth’s no longer here!
O Youth! for years so many and sweet,
‘Tis known, that Thou and I were one,
I’ll think it but a fond conceit—
It cannot be that Thou art gone!
In these lines of ‘Youth and Age’, the poet says that when you are in your prime, everything looks lovely and you enjoy nature. As a sensitive, young man he felt the charm of the natural objects and looked forward with the vitality of youth. In his youth, he was physically stronger and had an attraction towards nature and its objects. The poet says that love is like a flower and friendship is like a tree that protects you from all kinds of weather. The poet feels himself to be lucky to be blessed with friendship. But as he reconciles with this reality that he has grown old he consoles himself with this philosophy that we only grow old when our way of thinking grows old.
So, the poet further consoles himself by saying that youth has not gone but it’s how we perceive this world. He refuses to accept the harsh reality of life that is old age. We can see this reluctance when the poet says’ It cannot be that thou art are gone! We see that Coleridge simply refuses that he has grown old because in old age he will become dependent and lose every joy and liberty.
Thy vesper-bell hath not yet toll’d:—
And thou wert aye a masker bold!
What strange disguise hast now put on,
To make believe, that thou are gone?
I see these locks in silvery slips,
This drooping gait, this altered size:
But Spring-tide blossoms on thy lips,
And tears take sunshine from thine eyes!
Life is but thought: so think I will
That Youth and I are house-mates still.
Unlike the rest of the stanzas, we can see that here Coleridge is giving us the message of hope. The poet is saying that life is only what we perceive it to be. Even though you grow old physically but you remain young in mind as long as your way of thinking and your way of living remains young. The poet says that although he has grown old, his hair is all grey and he walks with a stoop but still he is young at the mind because his thoughts are young. Because life is just a thought, we make of life according to what we perceive of it.
Here we see that the poet consoles himself and the reader with the philosophy that we only grow old when our thoughts grow old. Age might take a toll on your body but if you are young in your thoughts then no one should call you old.
Dew-drops are the gems of morning,
But the tears of mournful eve!
Where no hope is, life’s a warning
That only serves to make us grieve,
When we are old:
That only serves to make us grieve
With oft and tedious taking-leave,
Like some poor nigh-related guest,
That may not rudely be dismist;
Yet hath outstay’d his welcome while,
And tells the jest without the smile.
Again drawing a contrast between youth and old age, the poet says that when you are in your prime the dew-drops seen in the morning look like gems whereas in old age these same dew-drops change into tears of pain and suffering. Meaning that when we are young we are full of hopes and dreams for a bright future, everything appears to be beautiful and we attach a new meaning to each and everything. But with the passage of time, we become mature and adopt a more realistic approach towards life. The entire canvas of life changes, as we grow old, and things take on a deeper meaning. Therefore we see that it’s only our thoughts that keep us young and hopeful.
About Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, literary critic, and philosopher. He had 14 siblings because his father had married twice. He was distinguished for the scope and influence of his thinking about literature as much as for this innovative verse. His only dramatic work, Osorio, written in 1797, was performed in 1813 under the title Remorse. “Christabel” and “Kubla Khan” were published in 1816.