Our speaker gets some advice from an older, wiser person: don't bank too much on love. Like any young person, he promptly ignores the advice. Did we mention that he's 21? Keep that in mind. It'll be important later.
Flash forward: now he's 22. And as it turns out, the advice he got was pretty good. Love hurts. And we're not just quoting that '80s song.
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
• Uh-oh. Any time a literary work starts out with a wise man's sayings, you just know that they're probably going to be ignored. If we listened to wise advisors, we wouldn't have any stories to tell. And poems are stories, after all. • So, we've got a young whippersnapper and his older mentor. Stay tuned, folks….
"Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free."
• Well, it turns out that love is worth more than gold. Or, er…the lack of love is worth more than gold. • Don't let the happy tone and snappy rhymes confuse you: this poem is about control. It turns love into an economic calculation, one which allows the "wise man" to balance feelings against more conventional forms of currency (crowns and pounds and guineas are, after all, the big guns of the U.K.'s monetary system). As it turns out, the heart is more valuable than money – which is precisely why the speaker's buddy thinks that it should remain soundly within his control. • Of course, this is also about the lack of control – since we have a feeling that not too many people take this wise man's sayings all that seriously. After all, there's a difference between once-in-a-lifetime When Harry Met Sally sort of soul mates and a passing crush. You might be able to block out true love with work or friends or Dungeons and Dragons. It'd be hard to stop being attracted to other people entirely, though, wouldn't it? But that's precisely what the advisor is...