The American businessman, poet and humanitarian Samuel Ullman was born in 1840 in Germany, in a Jewish family which emigrated to the USA in 1851. After a brief service in the Confederate Army, he married, started a business, served as a city alderman, and was a member of the local board of education. He also became president and then lay rabbi in a Jewish congregation. After retirement, he found more time for writing letters, essays and poetry. He died in 1924.
He is famous for his prose poem “Youth,” which he wrote at the age of 78. This poem is better known in Japan than in the USA, because General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander in Japan, hung a framed copy of it on the wall of his office in Tokyo and often quoted from it in his speeches.
I give here the usual version, from the website of the Samuel Ullman Museum, also found on several Japanese websites or blogs (see here and here). A slightly different version appears on Bartleby.com.
Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.
Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.
Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.
Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.
When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.
Previously published on Agapeta, 2017/11/15.