Nostalgia and the Cognitive Itch

I am not a blogger…or I never used to be. I only started blogging for this Digital Communications course that I’m enrolled in at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies.

I chose to write about poetry because it’s a topic that I am passionate about, but I noticed that a significant part of creating these posts involves a lot of soul searching that stretches far beyond poetry…and blogging!

I find myself rifling through my own unpublished work, pulling dusty books off of my bookshelf, and searching the web to see what my favourite poets are up to.

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In doing this, I found one sentiment in particular to be unexpectedly overwhelming–nostalgia.

According to Merriam-Webster 

Definition of nostalgia

  1. 1:  the state of being homesick :homesickness

  2. 2:  a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also:  something that evokes nostalgia


Why do we get nostalgic? Why do we feel that yearning or homesickness when we hear a certain song or smell a certain scent? How is it that we can feel an empty longing, but at the same time feel such fondness when we reflect on those memories?

This video is about nostalgia and its psychological effects:

The Vsauce host talks about cognitive itch as an ear worm…you know…that feeling of not being able to get rid of that song in your head, but I see cognitive itch as more of an untapped creative energy. I believe that certain triggers propel us to creativity, and that “itch” is telling us to do something about it.

Linking nostalgia to cognitive itch is the perfect pathway to creative output. Nostalgia is a beautiful source of artistic inspiration. For me, it fuels my poetic passions and teaches me things about myself that I could only ever really understand in retrospect. (Refer to my next blog post for more on this topic)

Below is the Abraham Lincoln poem referenced in the video. I love that idea of being “saddened with the view” but there being “pleasure in it too”.

My Childhood Home I See Again
      by Abraham Lincoln

My childhood home I see again, 
    And sadden with the view; 
And still, as memory crowds my brain, 
    There’s pleasure in it too.

O Memory! thou midway world 
    ‘Twixt earth and paradise, 
Where things decayed and loved ones lost 
    In dreamy shadows rise,

And, freed from all that’s earthly vile, 
    Seem hallowed, pure, and bright, 
Like scenes in some enchanted isle 
    All bathed in liquid light.

As dusky mountains please the eye 
    When twilight chases day; 
As bugle-notes that, passing by, 
    In distance die away;

As leaving some grand waterfall, 
    We, lingering, list its roar— 
So memory will hallow all 
    We’ve known, but know no more.

Near twenty years have passed away 
    Since here I bid farewell 
To woods and fields, and scenes of play, 
    And playmates loved so well.

Where many were, but few remain 
    Of old familiar things; 
But seeing them, to mind again 
    The lost and absent brings.

The friends I left that parting day, 
    How changed, as time has sped! 
Young childhood grown, strong manhood gray, 
    And half of all are dead.

I hear the loved survivors tell 
    How nought from death could save, 
Till every sound appears a knell, 
    And every spot a grave.

I range the fields with pensive tread, 
    And pace the hollow rooms, 
And feel (companion of the dead) 
    I’m living in the tombs.




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