Older & Wiser

Nostalgia Endures While Optimism Fades

In the fall of 1998, I was traveling with my family in Italy, doing work for my translation of Torquato Tasso’s epic centered on the first crusade, Jerusalem Delivered. I found a few pirated printings that Tasso had not authorized, along with early printings that came out before he had done with his revisions. Actually, the poor fellow never did have done with those. He was prone to fits of depression and madness, and from the last manifestation of the poem, Jerusalem Conquered, he had scrubbed out almost all traces of romance and charm, as too tempting for young souls.

I recall the time, though, because perhaps some of the poet’s madness had gotten into me. It was the time of the midterm elections, in Bill Clinton’s second term, and instead of the Republican wave I had expected, the Democrats surged; and I remember calling my sister back in the United States, frantic for information, as if the future of the world hung upon the result. Back then, too, I was the head of our state homeschooling organization, and I held out what I might have called hope, though it was really part hope and part optimism, that young Christians not poisoned by the schools would begin to change the whole tenor of our politics and what remained of American culture. John Paul  II was the head of my church, Joseph Ratzinger was the most intelligent and energetic protector of its deposit of faith, my children were young, I had just become my college’s youngest full professor ever; in other words, I was prone to an odd brew of youth and illusion, which I sometimes might mistake for hope, the theological virtue.


Anthony Esolen is the author of over thirty books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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