My Lost Youth – and the Future

Trail by the creek

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky.
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

– William Wordsworth

Until middle age I rarely thought about my country, preferring more exotic foreign cultures to my own and the Continental giants of Western civilization to the often more provincial, ephemeral figures that America produced. It was not until I realized the terrible peril my country was in (mainly after 9/11) that I began thinking again about what it meant to be American and about what I might do to help my country, or at the very least, to share in the experience of helping her.

This site is, in a way, about boyhood, for it was in boyhood that my “American” identity was formed, both in the flesh-and-blood connection to a people I experienced and in the stories and symbols of that nationhood. I know that the spiritual world I knew then was real, and that if we Westerners allow the spiritual, moral, and demographic decline to continue, there will be no more boys like my grandfather, my father, or me.

It has nothing to do with nostalgia. It has everything to do with the future.

When Wordsworth said that “the child is father of the man,” he was not only stating an obvious fact about the formation of our personalities; he was also calling for us to engage actively with the child in us, to draw upon the naïve genius of the child whose heart leaps up when he sees a rainbow. In our popular culture, the idea of “getting in touch with the child within us” may suggest a program of self-indulgence in which the goal seems to be to remain childish and irresponsible. But revisiting childhood can also be a source of strength, reminding us of who we basically are and sometimes shedding light on current dilemmas.

The Romantic celebration of personal liberation and social revolution was destructive (something Wordsworth realized early on), but I cannot give up Romanticism entirely. Surely there is something about the Romantic spirit, with its uniting of human love and spiritual elevation, with its belief in the world-changing power of the individual will, that we should retain even as we seek to re-impose a traditional order on our society.

Longfellow was another Romantic who at the same time understood the indispensability of social order. He, too, was constantly returning to his boyhood:

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.
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.”

* * *

There are things of which I may not speak;
There are dreams that cannot die;
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
And bring a pallor into the cheek,
And a mist before the eye.
And the words of that fatal song
Come over me like a chill:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “My Lost Youth

I am not sure exactly what those last two lines mean, and yet, as poetry, I know they are true. Indeed, I never realized how important my “lost youth” would become to me later in life. Whether those younger than me, with even less direct knowledge of the historical America, will be receptive to voices from the past, I have no idea. But I believe that some of them will. That will be an era I would like to live to see.

And Deering’s Woods are fresh and fair,
And with joy that is almost pain
My heart goes back to wander there,
And among the dreams of the days that were,
I find my lost youth again.
And the strange and beautiful song,
The groves are repeating it still:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

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22 Responses to My Lost Youth – and the Future

  1. Dr.D says:

    What a relief to see a new post here! With so many good blogs shutting down, I was much afraid you would drift away as well. Welcome back!

    You speak of boyhood, and I remember my own quite well. Unfortunately, boys are looked upon today much like ugly dogs or other undesirable animals, and they are simply to be controlled, tamed, neutered, feminized, and rendered harmless. Their imaginations are particularly being warped because they are forced to live so much of their time in virtual reality, as opposed to real reality.

    I was born shortly before WW II, so my early years were spent with the war as a constant background. I was often told that someone’s son had been killed, someone had been wounded in the South Pacific, etc. My Grandparents had a large gold star in their front window because they had a son in the Marines. Everyone was very patriotic.

    When the Korean War came along, I was learning to read (I was very late learning to read), and I quit reading the newspaper because I could not stand to read the news of the regular defeats and withdrawals of our troops in Korea. I was quite amazed some two years later to discover we had pushed the Communist back up to the north and had them to the point where a cease fire could be negotiated. Again, there was no question about anyone’s patriotism. My next door neighbor, the big boy, high school football star, that I looked up to, went to Korea and came home completely shattered, shot to pieces, and I was badly shaken.

    When Viet Nam came along, things were a little bit different, and there was not the total support for the war that there had been previously. A lot of people thought we should not be there, and there was a lot of objection to the war. Many people objected to serving, and a lot did things like go to Canada to avoid the draft. That was the first time I saw a real change, and as I look back, I see that it was a much more political war than those previous war seem to have been. It has been all down hill since then with Desert Storm, etc.

  2. Old Atlantic says:

    America is suffering PTSD. So is Europe. PTSD has as a symptom depression. Immigrants make it worse and the apathy towards immigration is itself a symptom of PTSD. Whites grow up inside PTSD. Their lives are PTSD. They have no memory of not being inside PTSD.

  3. stephenhopewell says:

    Dr. D,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences of boyhood and patriotism. I grew up during and after the Vietnam war, so didn’t fully know that kind of natural, unquestioned patriotism you talk about (I was in a liberal community, too), but I know that it existed.

    And thank you for your words of support. I don’t intend to desert the “cause” by any means, nor go out of range of contact. This blog will only end when I’m ready to move on to something better.

    OA,

    PTSD is an apt simile for our disorder – definitely we are “depressed” as a people – though I’m not sure how far the comparison holds. (What was the trauma? World War II? The Civil Rights movement? All immigration? Modernization?)

  4. Dr.D says:

    OA has written much about the effects of immigration, and I hope that he will expand on his ideas regarding PTSD here. If I may, I’d like to put in my two cents worth also.

    I think the overt cause of the PTSD was Integration/Affirmative Action, reinforced by the ever growing numbers of immigrants coming from Latin America. The language that has come with these two has been steadily growing Political Correctness which is extremely oppressive by its very nature. (When I first heard of PC back in the early ’80s, I thought it was a joke; I could not imagine that anyone would actually accept such ridiculous constraints upon their speech.)

    These factors together are sufficient to convince many white people that they have no real future in this country as free men. They will be second class citizens, seeking to make a life by being useful to their overlords, rather than as masters of their own lives and futures.

  5. stephenhopewell says:

    Dr. D,

    This is persuasive to me. However, that means that the trauma was one hidden from or repressed by large sectors of society. (Or at least from liberals and the educated classes.) I think of PTSD as being a response to overt trauma like being in battle. I may be mistaken about that.

    For instance, for many white northerners I don’t think integration was perceived as particularly traumatic. You simply started seeing a sprinkling of black faces in the media, maybe in your community, where there were none before. This was even something to feel good about. Only later did you realize that that presence meant you could no longer speak freely about black people. (A process that has since extended to other groups, gays, etc.)

    (No doubt my middle-class community with its more or less assimilated middle-class blacks was sheltered; obviously it was much tougher for urban middle-class whites who had to deal with forced busing and from being ethnically cleansed from their own neighborhoods.)

    Similarly I think many white Americans had no idea – still have no idea – of the deadly effect of third-world immigration on American society – it really is a “boiling the frog slowly” process where the effects remain outside of consciousness.

  6. Dr.D says:

    One of the problems that we have yet today is that many white people still have no first hand knowledge of black people, particularly northerners. They theorize about how all people should live in mixed communities, but they simply have no experience of the reality of such. (I realize this is not true of all northerners, only some.) Nobody could argue that having Thomas Sowell or Alan Keyes in your class as fellow students is going to slow down the class or hold things back. But they are in no way the typical ghetto blacks, and it is the typical ghetto blacks that do hold back school classes, disrupt and destroy discipline and learning, and raise havoc. People who had been protected from this by segregation were suddenly forced to confront it with integration, and it was a nasty situation. It was bad for white people because it disrupted the educational process, and it was bad for black people because they were immediately shown to be inferior and became resentful. It was a lose-lose situation.

  7. I too would associate myself with Dr.D’s last remark. The difference between Mississippi, where 80 to 90 percent of white voters vote Republican for the presidency, and Iowa, whose white voters vote Obama, is instructive.

  8. Dr.D says:

    Howard, thank you for the very concrete piece of support for the point I was making.

    _____ , you have written a really wonderful description of what we used to have in all of our books. Thank you. I would change one sentence in what you said, however. We have been poisoned by a lack of critical thinking, a lack of thinking clearly and rationally, seeking objective truth, without the shackles of Political Correctness. As you observed in regard to the textbook you were talking about, we knew who we were, we knew where we were going, and we were confident in the rightness of that mission. These are the things that we must regain if we are to survive.

  9. stephenhopewell says:

    ____ – you seem to share the Heritage American approach to things. What you describe is exactly the (mental) universe I am trying to tap into.

    The thing is, one can realize these racial realities without first-hand experience if one is attuned properly – otherwise everyone would have to be mugged; and as we know, people can still be mugged or worse without waking up to the threat to their lives. (I grew up with middle-class blacks, including very high-achieving ones, and never felt there was any problem.) There is a kind of “social epistemology” by which we gain knowledge second-hand. If the society is sound, its collective wisdom is generally sound. Thus we can understand the fundamental threat posed by Islam without actually becoming experts on Islam. (I stopped trying to study Islam when I got to the point of realizing this.)

    Dr.D, I think ____ put “critical thinking” in quotes because she meant the contemporary, Orwellian meaning of the term as used in education. A liberal approach of finding endless nuances which prevent one from ever judging what is ours as right or what is other people’s as wrong.

  10. Dr.D says:

    Thank you, Stephen, for clarifying the contemporary meaning “critical thinking.” I am so old, I tend to think words still mean what they have always meant, rather than the exact opposite. It is necessary to have a translation at times!

  11. stephenhopewell says:

    _____ , that makes even more sense. I didn’t know the Frankfurt School specifically used the term this way.

    As you probably know, it’s often said that one of the main goals of education is to teach students “critical thinking” (more or less in Dr.D’s use of the term). This is not a bad thing, but since teaching OUR cultural tradition has become forbidden, all that is left is to “critique” the material by liberal standards. Thus the ONLY way to read a book like Huckleberry Finn is to pick out its liberal messages (for praise) or its hidden or overt “racism” and other vices (for condemnation). You can’t read it as a allegory about “human life,” for instance.

    So my meaning flows into yours. Or, rather, it goes from the original commonsense meaning Dr.D referred to, to mine, to yours.

    I see Wikipedia actually has an entry for “critical thinking,” if anyone’s interested.

  12. Dr.D says:

    And we wind up with a commentary on the evolution (or should I say distortion?) of language!

  13. The most interesting point in the entire article may be this, buried deep in the comment thread:

    There is a kind of “social epistemology” by which we gain knowledge second-hand. If the society is sound, its collective wisdom is generally sound.

    I had never thought explicitly of it before, but I wonder if you are not right.

  14. Mary, if you are still following these comments, I have never read Gramsci at first hand. Taken at second hand, Gramsci has always struck me as easily the most interesting of all the Marxists, far more so than his sicko disciple, Marcuse. Is it worth my time in your view to find an English translation of Gramsci and read it?

  15. Dr.D says:

    Howard, if you do read Gramsci first hand (even in translation), perhaps you can post some summaries of what you read. I have to admit, I am afraid to tackle such a thing; I think it would depress me too much. What I have read of the man is extremely frightening because he seems to have been so dead on the mark.

  16. Hannon says:

    Stephen,

    Good to see you posting again. Most of my political reading seems to be frenetic (both the material and my reading of it) and it is always restorative to take in your more low key and reflective contributions.

    I, too, had and still have a penchant for exotic destinations. It has been a strong pull for me since early youth, probably stemming from stamp collecting! In the back of my mind I always think of what a beautiful country America is, and how I will take time to see more of it when I am older. This dovetails into what ____ wrote about a seemingly bygone era that inculcated a sort of communal appreciation for the physical United States in grade school students. There is no doubt in my mind that focusing on our natural wonders– with pride and awe– helped children were drawn together in a common identity as Americans. I think the trend of urban concentration has eroded this ethic and helped destructive ideologies take root.

    There is a vacuum of interest and attention paid to the environment by conservatives. I have long believed that this area needs to be challenged by the right, though it gets almost zero attention from bloggers and pundits. I don’t mean climate change and hybrid vehicles but actual _conservation_ of our natural resources, both aesthetic and essential.

    Dr D writes: “People who had been protected from this by segregation were suddenly forced to confront it with integration, and it was a nasty situation.”

    Agreed. So how did it develop that the end result has been the opposite of what one would expect in a sane population? If policy decisions move you in a direction that causes more pain than panacea, why would you keep going in the same direction? Obviously there was simultaneous conditioning to induce such behavior among whites. It has only gotten more entrenched and powerful.

  17. Dr.D says:

    Hannon has written, “If policy decisions move you in a direction that causes more pain than panacea, why would you keep going in the same direction?”

    The policy was not an honest desire to effect the greatest good for the real people involved, but instead it was a Utopian vision, overriding the desires of actual people completely. Those controlling events were wedded to their vision, without regard for the pain that their actions caused, and they remain so today. Their ability to maintain this idealized view is facilitated by their own insulation from the situation, the fact that they never have to deal with it on a personal level but only consider it in abstraction.

  18. stephenhopewell says:

    I think Dr.D is right, at least as applies to the policy makers. For the passive masses, there is some kind of mental paralysis (cf. Takuan Seiyo’s “pod people”) that causes them to still accept current policies even as they see the destruction around them.

    _____ , I certainly agree that “conservatives” should try to take charge of the environmental issue. It’s kind of a submerged theme in what I say in this blog.

  19. L witz says:

    Found this and thought it brought insight into the last two lines:

    “”Evidently from John Scheffer’s History of Lapland (1674): “A Youth’s desire is the desire of the wind, / All his essaies / Are long delaies, / No issue can they find.” In 1913 Robert Frost called his first volume of poems A Boy’s Will in an allusion to Longfellow’s line””

    • stephenhopewell says:

      L witz, thanks for that. Very interesting. Longfellow’s line is better, though – the boy’s thoughts still continuing into his old age!

  20. Kitty 6 says:

    I so enjoyed reading this site. I see a well planned destruction of our nation and way of life that is in its advanced stages of execution. The world masters cannot tolerate an education, free thinking population with the courage to speak freely their minds. Thus, we have political correctness hanging off the walls of the acadamy, with those that truly hate white middle class males more than anything else in charge of everything. I know, I just finnished my masters degree in applied linguistics, and had to bite my tongue so often that I am suprised I still have it. I fear that we have actually crossed the point of no return, and our nation as we know it will become several regional entities and the federal system will sink in a cesspool of red ink and debt. Those of us that are truly free and have the health required will be living in the mountains and unihabited places for some time to come, I fear.

    Kitty6

  21. stephenhopewell says:

    Kitty6, thank you for commenting. I know EXACTLY what you mean about PC in the academic environment and am very experienced in biting my tongue as well. Hang in there, though – our numbers are growing and the truth will prevail!

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