Wishes of Youth

Well, it is that time of the week again, when all the true literary critics flee for the hills in horror, as Goodbye Sky Harbour comes waddling out its blogging cave, to pester the literate once more. This time, I’ve decided to write about one of my favourite sonnets, Wishes of Youth by Samuel Blanchard. It’s not a very well-known sonnet (as testified by the fact that googling it only barely stumbles upon a weird poetry page from the early 2000s…), and I found it quite by accident during the first year of my BA, flipping through a book, Sonnets of the Century; the century, of course, being the nineteenth one. Anyway, I love the poem; it hits all the right notes for me. Technically, it’s well done, nothing to marvel at as you would Ozymandias or Spenser’s Amoretti, but it is still a great sonnet.


The first line of the poem sums up the whole sonnet. I’m sure Blanchard could have just stopped there if he had wanted to, although that would have made it fail the ‘sonnet’ test. Plus, it wouldn’t be quite so poetic. But the line is great:


Gaily and greenly let my seasons run;


And there you have it: the wishes of youth. The alliteration is well done – all those ‘g’ sounds and ‘l’ sounds hammer the line into one’s head. Already, it captures the poem; after all, who is so masochistic as not to desire their life’s seasons to be gay and green?


I know it is reprinting too much of the poem, but the whole sentence is so worth reading, and is rather hard to discuss if one hasn’t read them! So, I must:


Gaily and greenly let my seasons run;

And should the war-winds of the world uproot

The sanctities of life, and its sweet fruit

Be cast forth as fuel for the fiery sun;

The dews be turned to ice – fair days begun

In peace wear out in pain, and sounds that suit

Despair and discord keep Hope’s harp-string mute;


I’ll pause there for now. The sentence does, after all, run throughout most of the poem. Again, the alliteration of ‘war-winds of the world;’ ‘fuel for the fiery sun.’ I love it, it makes each line come out harsher, as one is forced to dwell one each cruel word, and almost makes you want to spit them out. The imagery here is also lovely (or, perhaps, well done…); the image of the world’s war-winds uprooting life’s sanctities is so sombre, and is immediately followed by my second favourite part of the poem, ‘its sweet fruit/ be cast forth as fuel for the fiery sun.’ It conjures up so many images of harshness, and makes one think about what a cruel sun it is, and pitiful we who must live beneath it. And then, of course, we come to ‘sounds that suit/ despair and discord keep Hope’s harp-string mute.’ It is another tragically beautiful line; plus, it has my favourite literary technique of personification. How cruel a world to keep Hope’s harp mute!


From there, the next few lines are nice enough. I have nothing particular to say about them; I don’t think them to be the equal of what came before. They are good, however; I enjoy the pleading tone of ‘Still let me live as if Love and Life were one;/ Still let me turn on earth a child-like gaze.’ One can feel the poet’s despair at the world’s cruelty, and feel his desire to live innocently, ideally, and happily. However, the very last part of the poem is what always gets me. It gave me shivers down my spine when I first read it, and, when I’m in a sufficiently melodramatic mood, I can still feel the same:

–          Still let me raise

On wintry wrecks an altar to the Spring.


What a note on which to end the poem! Again, it has the pleading feel of the earlier lines; the hard alliteration of ‘wintry wrecks,’ and the great image, of raising an altar to the Spring, amidst the world’s cruel wreckage. This is, honestly, one of the main reasons I love this poem, simply for the last line.


So yes, it’s a great sonnet. Nothing so amazing as to completely shock you, yet the imagery is powerful. Blanchard managed to make one feel his despair at the world’s cruelty, and all of its despair. The pleading feeling of the poem is well done; you can almost imagine Blanchard proclaiming this poem as supplication to the world. It does make one think, and there is definitely despair in the poem. That being said, I don’t find the poem sad; rather, I find it happy. Although it is only a, well, prayer, it has this element of hope. That the world is not so bad, since there is this innocence, this happiness to be found; maybe I read what is not there, but I definitely feel that the poem implies that we too can raise altars to the Spring, on the wintry wrecks. Sadly, if I must end on a sorrowful truth, Blanchard never got his wish; he lived a tortured life, and eventually committed suicide in his early thirties. Requiescat in pace.


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