Tuesday, February 17, 2015

`The Strength and Pain of Being Young'

The smug platitude that youth is wasted on the young is annoying even to those of us no longer holding on to pretensions of youthfulness. We might as well agree that age is wasted on the aged. Only the unhappily aging, though relieved not to be dead, utter that sort of self-serving nonsense. Such pearls are tautologies. We’re human. What we have is never sufficient. My younger sons wish they could drive; my oldest complains about the cost of auto repairs and rental cars. That is our nature. Dr. Johnson’s great essay on memory, The Idler #44, published on this date, Feb. 17, in 1759, might at first be mistaken for a primer on computer science: “The two offices of memory are collection and distribution; by one images are accumulated, and by the other produced for use.” But Johnson the sage moralist soon takes over: 

“Much of the pleasure which the first survey of the world affords, is exhausted before we are conscious of our own felicity, or able to compare our condition with some other possible state. We have, therefore, few traces of the joy of our earliest discoveries; yet we all remember a time, when nature had so many untasted gratifications, that every excursion gave delight which, can now be found no longer…” 

One readily understands the appeal of nostalgia, the yearning for a lost Golden Age, fictional or otherwise, but as adults we reject it as delusional. Those who choose to live there are likely to grow stunted, like plants with insufficient sunlight. In one of Larkin’s  bracingly anti-romantic poems, “Sad Steps,” he demystifies a hackneyed poetic moment – a glimpse of the moon in the night. In place of the expected revelation, he gives us mockery of poeticisms, a small forest of exclamation points. But his poem doesn’t end there. Instead, he gives us yearning of another sort, a pang and its antidote in reality: 

“…a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can’t come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.”

1 comment:

Subbuteo said...

Not entirely apposite to this posting, although Dr Johnson is mentioned; with a view to your placing Tristram Shandy at the top of your top ten novels recently and, simultaneously reading Tristram Shandy and Boswell as I am, I came across Johnson's verdict on Sterne's wonderful book. He opines regarding Sterne's "infinitude of oddities" that "Nothing odd will do long" Hmmm