There was something about the golden, end-of-day sunlight and the way the crashing surf was hitting the seawalls in Biarritz that brought to my mind a vague recollection of a book I read in a French class a very long time ago. I had to think for a minute to place it, and came up with the author: Chateaubriand--the guy who was the founding father of Romanticism in French literature (and, yes, after whom that cut of beef is named).

With the help of Google, it's all coming back now: François-René de Chateaubriand was a writer and statesman who grew up on the windswept beaches of Brittany, and the book was René--a novella about a passionate, melancholy young man who finds himself at odds with society. He's the archetypal teenager, really--think Holden Caulfield, Ferris Bueller, etc.--and, let's be honest: we've all been there and felt that way, which is why these characters have appealed to us at some point in our lives. The book is full of descriptions of the rugged, north Atlantic coast, the main character's lonely childhood, and passages like this:

"Alas, I was alone, alone on the earth. A secret languor was taking hold of my body. The disgust for life I had felt since childhood came back with renewed force. Soon my heart no longer provided food for my mind, and the only thing I felt in my existence was a deep ennui."

I have to laugh when I read this now. Maybe it was just better in French, and the English translation turns it into purple prose. Or, now that I'm an adult with kids of my own, René doesn't speak to my state of mind and seems decadent and self-indulgent. But I have to admit: there is something about Chateaubriand's depiction of the wild landscape and the angst of youth--and the feeling I had when I first read it--that has stayed with me all these years.

Since I must write a poem:

Off the Atlantic

sweep the winds of memory,

souvenirs of youth