I have a poem I have long favored— Longfellow's “My Lost Youth.” It’s not particularly fashionable. But Longfellow has not been fashionable for some time, and probably won’t be for quite some time. I may as well stick some masking tape on my glasses and push them up, because admitting my affection for this poem is pretty well admitting my status as A Nerrrrrd.
You’d think, that as a girl who loves Prada and Lanvin and things trendy and shiny, that I would pick a poet who is a bit more au courant. But no. Ultimately, we choose what speaks to us. And Longfellow, that very bourgeois poet (although I am not fond of him elsewhere) in just this poem, speaks to me.
“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 [doesn’t it, though? Returning to a place where you were young gives a strange, powerful feeling of youthful memories on aging].
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.’ ”
It is when Longfellow talks about the gleams and glooms that dart across the brain of a school-boy, the song and the silence in the heart that are partly longings and partly prophecies, that he really gets me. I was never a boy (just a tomboy), but to me it speaks deeply of childhood fancies, pains and pleasures. It is hard, sometimes, not to listen to the chatter of a child (like, say, Curly, who chatters away happily with anyone willing to have a nice, companionable gab with her) who is starting to develop their own understanding of the world, and not think of this poem.
And today, at a funeral for a 10-year-old boy, I thought of it again, and of Auden’s classic poem of grief. And Emerson, and his hyacinthine boy, never to be returned.
There will never be anything right in a child’s funeral.