Literature as Teacher: Conrad’s “Youth”

I just re-read Conrad’s “Youth,” a short story. Marlow, the narrator and an old sailor tells a story to old drinking mates. He does a beautiful job of showing the energy and audacity of youth in contrast to the perspective of age and wisdom. Marlow has submitted to fate as good sailors must. He does not regret any misdirections he took in youth. Youth does what youth does. He doesn’t see folly in his youth, just the facts of energetic, essential innocence. Age has its essential experience. If youth had foresight, a man would have no youth. Hindsight given right wisdom should bring serenity and gratitude that you survived a burning ship. The image of a slow burning fire in the hold is powerful, grippingly present. What a motivator — a fire in the hold known only by insidious smoke and steam from below.  David Milliken

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