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Last Updated on July 9, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 367

The Freedom of Youth

Regardless of generation, each new era of teenagers seems to enjoy more freedoms than the one before. The couple whom the narrator spies has the opportunity to enjoy more sexual freedom than he did. It is worth noting that this couple is imaginary and ongoing ("When I see a couple of kids") and that he presents no evidence that any of these teens are actually engaging in sexual activity.

His envy drives him to make the assumption that because they can, they all just are. He considers this true "freedom." He also notes that, in his youth, he experienced his own freedoms not shared by the generation before. He was allowed more freedom in religious expression and wasn't expected to put the priest on a moral pedestal. The nature of youth is always changing, bringing with it new opportunities, which is a source of envy for some in older generations.

New Sexual Freedoms

Published in the early 1970s and after a decade of the availability of the birth control pill, the poem reflects a changing attitude toward sex in American culture. The availability of the pill and other contraceptive options, like the diaphragm (also referenced in the first stanza), shifted attitudes—which is reflected especially in the culture of the 1960s and 1970s.

Of course, the primary concern at this time was simply the avoidance of pregnancy, and many other concerns noted in our culture today weren't even on the radar of typical teenagers (and some, like AIDS, didn't even exist yet in America). Nonetheless, the freedom of sexual choices is seen and envied by the narrator.

The Regrets of Midlife

The narrator himself envies the opportunities of the younger generation in his midlife. He also pauses to consider that maybe, when he was a teenager himself, some older man might have stopped to envy the freedoms that he enjoyed at that time. Perhaps that is just part of midlife—taking stock of impossibilities and missed opportunities with regret. His final stanza ends on this note: regardless of which era teens grow up in, they all eventually pass through the window of adulthood and eventually find themselves in the vast nothingness of midlife.

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