“Now as I was young…” : Reflections on 'Fern Hill'

by Deborah Grose

An older man reminisces about his charmed youth. He speaks in the straightforward vocabulary of a child immersed in the natural world. The colors (blue, white, green and gold) are basic; the emotions (happy, easy, carefree) are uncomplicated. His boyhood is populated by plants, animals, and the recurring rhythms of heavenly bodies, as he runs, climbs, walks, sleeps, plays, sings, races, and flies. No other humans come into view. Rather, his antagonist is time, whose name he utters on six occasions. Nostalgia turns bittersweet as he acknowledges the inevitability of change and loss and death. In so doing he conjures our awareness that past and present - youth and maturity - innocence and worldliness are opposite poles, but are inextricably linked, even while neither end can fully apprehend the other.