Virginia Lucas Poetry Scrapbook

Explication of Richard Henry Stoddard's "There Are Gains for All Our Losses"

            The poem dramatizes the relationship between youth and aging, discussing the speaker’s solemn loss of youth and longing for what is absent in elderly life. Youth “departs” from the speaker, followed “with flying feet” by youth’s sweetness, and this departure and image of flight characterizes youth as a bird that has flown away (3, 9). Youth is said to be “the dream” and described as “beautiful,” and Stoddard’s positive characterization of youth contrasts with his description of the speaker’s current situation in adulthood (3, 11). It is also important to note that the speaker is not just speaking for him- or herself; rather, the use of plural pronouns such as “our” and “we” enables the speaker to speak for all who have lost their youth (1, 4). Additionally, by speaking for all, the speaker can include the audience in his poem, as if the reader himself were speaking, drawing the reader closer to the subject matter.
            Two different titles of the poem must first be discussed before further examining the poem. In Virginia Lucas’ Poetry Scrapbook, the title is transcribed as “There Are Gains for All Our Losses.” However, in Edmund Clarence Stedman’s An American Anthology, 1787-1900, the title is proclaimed to be “The Flight of Youth.” These two different titles incite two different implications for the poem. In Virginia Lucas’ version, the title “There Are Gains for All Our Losses” emphasizes the first line of the poem, which asserts that as one ages one gains but also loses. The equilibrium attained by this balancing act is less sorrowful than the rest of the poem, which focuses more on the vanishing of youth instead of the “gains” of aging. The other title, “The Flight of Youth,” emphasizes the zoomorphic image of youth as a bird that is alluded to in the poem, and this focuses the reader on the visualization of youth flying away from the speaker. This “flight” contributes to the fleeting feeling of youth described in the poem. To decide which title is “correct” is not the goal of this paper, but it is important to note that both titles most likely were “correct” at one point in time. Virginia Lucas’ scrapbook is mostly her own transcriptions of others’ poems, so it is not impossible that she copied down this title from some sort of publication she stumbled across. As for the other title showcased in Stedman’s anthology, this is currently the most popular title based on surviving publications of the poem and became the “correct” title by being published this way multiple times.
            The poem begins with a riddle of sorts, with the speaker saying: “There are gains for all our losses, / There are balms for all our pain” (1-2). The speaker asserts that with each negative event that occurs in our life, there is a positive correlate that accompanies it. With each pain, there is a medicine to soothe that pain. However, the speaker then contradicts himself, saying that when “youth, the dream, departs, / It takes something from our hearts, / And it never comes again” (3-5). By slowing the poem’s rhythm down at the end of line 3 with the use of commas and the alliterative repetition of “dream” and “departs,” the speaker draws attention to youth’s exit. The speaker fails to point out any gains that accompany the loss of youth, depicting youth’s departure as solemn and melancholy. Youth “takes something from our hearts” as it exits, and this line draws parallels to heartbreak. By declaring that youth “never comes again” in line 5, the speaker’s sense of finality at the end of this stanza mirrors the finality of youth’s exit.
            It is important to pause here and note the repetition of line 5. The line is repeated at the end of each of the three stanzas, which drives the sense of sadness that Stoddard connects with youth’s dramatic exit. Additionally, the poem’s rhyme scheme helps illustrate the finality Stoddard inserts into the aging process with this line. Each stanza conforms to an ABCCB pattern. The rhyming couplet between the third and fourth line divides the slant rhyme of the second and fifth line. The rhyme scheme incorporates the final line into the stanza, keeping line 2 and 5 of each stanza repeatedly linked, and the slant rhyme places stress on the final syllable of line 5 in order to force this link. The slant rhyme spotlights the final line, just as the repetition of the line aims to do.
            In addition to the rhyme scheme emphasizing the last syllable of the last line, the meter also highlights this last syllable by stressing it. The poem is in trochaic tetrameter with a few things to note. The first line of each stanza has eight syllables, all of which conform to trochaic tetrameter. The last syllable of the first line in every stanza is unstressed, leading the reader to jump to the next line for the next stressed syllable. However, the rest of the lines of each stanza have seven syllables, forcing these lines to be classified as catalectic verse, which means that there is an incomplete foot. The trochaic pattern is continued in the catalexis, which puts emphasis on the last syllable of the last four lines of each stanza. This emphasis forces the slant rhyme between lines 2 and 5, placing stress on the last syllable in “again,” forcing the last syllable to be read like gain. Interestingly, by forcing the word again to sound like gain, the poet infuses the first line of the poem into the last line of each stanza, creating continuity. The highlighting of this line creates a melancholy mood in the piece, and the feeling of loss at the exit of youth is analogous to how the loss of a loved one is usually portrayed with the same solemn tone. This loss of youth—which comes as of yet with no gain in the poem—is being cast as if the speaker is mourning his younger self.
            In the second stanza, the speaker characterizes people whose youth has departed as “stronger” and “better / Under manhood’s sterner reign” (6-7). The speaker again contradicts himself—in the first stanza, there were no positive correlates with youth’s departure, but now, we have a balm for the pain of youth’s flight. The speaker asserts that a life without youth is “better,” but there is no flowery language to accompany this description, and this mirrors the “sterner” life that the older generations are described as having. However, the speaker then once again shifts his focus to the negatives of losing youth, saying “that something sweet / Followed youth with flying feet” (8-9). The “something sweet” is unnamed, as if the speaker is ruminating on what is missing in his aged life. These lines both end with alliteration in addition to rhyming. Both alliterative sounds, “f” and “s,” are soft semivowels, and their soft sounds contribute to the lightness of what is being said. The weightlessness of the sounds mirrors the weightlessness of the metaphorical flight. Here we see some detailed imagery, characterizing the beauty of youth and further contrasting life with youth and life without it.
            The flowery language continues at the start of the final stanza, when the speaker says: “Something beautiful has vanished / And we sigh for it in rain” (11-12). The choice to incorporate rain in this stanza furthers the melancholy mood while also characterizing the aging process as depressing—grey clouds accompany rain, and the absence of sunshine deepens the dark mood. The action of the speaker sighing for youth and “behold[ing] it everywhere” characterizes youth again as a lost lover or departed family member. The speaker is in mourning. Seeing youth as dead in the speaker’s eyes confirms the finality of the last line: “It never comes again” (15). Coping with the loss of youth, the speaker fails to find comfort at the end of the poem, leaving the reader with the description of the loss instead of a resolution or acceptance of the fact. While the poet opens the poem by saying “there are gains for all our losses,” the speaker gives the audience no gains in the face of the loss of youth.

Works Cited
Stoddard, Richard Henry. “469. The Flight of Youth.” An American Anthology 1787-1900, ed. Edmund Clarence Stedman. Houghton Mifflin, 1900., July 2001. Web. Accessed 1 Nov. 2016.
Stoddard, Richard Henry. “’There Are Gains for All Our Losses,’ by Richard Henry Stoddard,” Virginia Lucas Poetry Scrapbook, transcribed by Kirsten Corbman, Scalar, 11 Oct. 2016. . Web. Accessed 31 Oct. 2016.