Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 420

The primary matter of “Legend” is the exposition of a mature man looking back to make a statement about a relationship of his youth in order to determine the lasting if not lingering effects. The poet expresses an intense desire for his return to this past relationship. At the same time, he explores its impact as a defining characteristic of his present identity.

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The mature poet writing of a relationship from his youth knows that the way the relationship seemed then was not what he now considers it to be. Hence, there is the title and the use of the word “legend” in the last line of the poem. The love from his youth has, to a certain, insurmountable extent, made his love life, if not the essence of his being, what it is at the time the poem is being written—that is, in the “noon” of the poet’s life. The relationship has left the poet fixed forever as one who can explain himself and the meaning of his existence only in terms of what had happened in his youth. He had not merely permitted but actually willed that this love would become a lover for all seasons and years and lives, one whose memory now could provide an unquenchable “constant harmony” not evident during the actual relationship of his youth.

As indicated in the fourth stanza, to believe in a mirror is to believe in oneself and the reality of oneself. The lover as object has become the lover as subject; one who is different, at least in memory, has become one who is the same. The result is a concord not only for the individual but also for “all those who step/ The legend of their youth into noon.” The meaning of the poem is not universal, but it does have an audience and application far beyond that of the poet himself.

Finally, it must be maintained that the poem is not strictly about a homosexual relationship from the poet’s youth, even though this factor gives clear sustenance to the poem’s existence. The poem pertains to all individuals in the “noon” of their lives who would fondly look back at relationships from their youths in order to give them significance which they probably neither had nor deserved. Had they truly been what the poet romantically imagines them to be, then they would not be history. They can rightly be described as “Bleeding eidolons.” They remove the life-blood from one’s present, denying temporal happiness.

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