“My Lost Youth,” a lyrical autobiography of the poet’s early life, is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s tribute both to his native city of Portland, Maine, and to the boy who climbed its hilly streets and gazed out over its harbor dreaming faraway dreams. The poem consists of ten nine-line stanzas, the last two lines of each being the famous refrain “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,/ And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts,” which, as is made clear in the first stanza, are verses translated from a Lapland song.
Although the refrain is, perhaps, its most memorable component, the lynchpin of the poem is the oft-repeated word “still.” Longfellow in “My Lost Youth” is describing memories that still come to him from a city that he still visits. The boy may be lost to him, but the place and the dreams still exist.
The poem opens with the well-known description of Portland found in many tourist pamphlets and travel books of the “beautiful town/seated by the sea.” This setting of place is continued into the second stanza, which emphasizes the city’s location on a peninsula surrounded by a sea dotted with islands. These islands fueled the boy Longfellow’s romantic dreams as he watched their silhouettes fade into the horizon. This romanticism is echoed in the “black wharves,” “Spanish sailors,” and “mystery of ships” of the third stanza.
Historical ships and their captains are the subject of...
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