When I Was One-and-Twenty

When I Was One-and-Twenty

 by A. E. Houseman 

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
’Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

Summary of When I Was One-and-Twenty

  • Popularity of “When I Was One-and-Twenty”: E. Houseman, a great English scholar, and poet, wrote ‘When I Was One-and-Twenty’. It is a lyrical poem famous on account of its themes of regret and wisdom. It was first published in 1896 in A Shropshire Lad. The poem speaks about the sage advice the speaker receives from a wise old man in his youth that he ignores. It also illustrates how he finally realizes the value of those precious words.
  • “When I Was One-and-Twenty” As Representative of Wisdom: This poem is about the speaker’s personal experience. The poem begins when the wise man gives the speaker some valuable advice: never give your heart away, it will cost your happiness, bring emotional pain, and lead you to endless sorrow. Instead, give your riches to the one you love. The speaker, immersed in a youthful period, decides not to pay heed to that advice. It is only a year later, the speaker encounters the same wise man and receives yet another precious advice from him. Having some bitter experiences in life, he now fully understands the underlying meanings of the wise man’s words. Hence, the speaker is transformed from immature to a mature young man.
  • Major Themes in “When I Was One-and-Twenty”: Wisdom, experience, and youth are the major themes underlined in this poem. The poem reflects upon two things; the attitude of the young speaker toward life in contrast with the wise man’s perception of life. The wise man, keeping his experiences in mind, tries to make the speaker understand that the heart is more precious than all the riches; therefore, he should guard it more carefully. Throughout the poem, the young speaker receives advice from the old man. At first, he does not pay any heed, but within a year, he becomes the victim of lost love and realizes that the old man’s advice was based on reality.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “When I Was One-and-Twenty”

Literary devices are used to bring uniqueness, clarity, and richness to the texts. The writers use them to convey their ideas, emotions, and feelings in a meaningful way. Houseman has also used some literary devices in this poem. The analysis of literary devices used in this poem is given below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /ee/ in “But keep your fancy free.”.
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. For example, the sound /t/ in “’tis true, ’tis true” and sound of /h/ in “I heard him say again,”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. For example, such as the sound of /d/ in “Give crowns and pounds and guineas”.
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it rolls over to the next line. For example,

“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “Give crowns and pounds and guineas”, “The heart out of the bosom” and “Give pearls away and rubies.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different in nature. Pearls and rubies metaphorically represent material riches.
  3. Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal meanings. Here ‘sighs a plenty’ symbolizes acute pain the speaker has suffered from and “rubies”, “Pearls”, “crown” and “pounds” are the symbol of wealth.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “When I Was One-and-Twenty”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. End RhymeEnd rhyme is used to make a stanza melodious. For example, in the first and second lines in the first stanza, the rhyming words are “free”, “me”, “say” and “away.”
  2. Octave: An Octave is an eight-lined stanza borrowed from Sicilian poetry. Here each stanza is an octave.
  3. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the ABAB rhyme scheme, and this pattern continues until the end.
  4. Repetition: There is a repetition of the verse “When I was one-and-twenty” which has created a musical quality in the poem.
  5. Refrain: The lines or a line repeated after a pause in the poems are called a refrain. The verse, “When I was one-and-twenty” is used as a refrain after a pause.
  6. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some verses. There are two stanzas in this poem, each having eight verses.

Quotes to be Used

These two lines are useful on the occasion of a speech given about the importance of life.

“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”