Topics: Love, Gemstone, Wisdom Pages: 3 (730 words) Published: March 18, 2013
"When I was one-and-twenty..."
by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)
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.

Explanation: "When I Was One-and-Twenty"

Lines 1-4

In the opening lines, the speaker begins his monologue by clearly expressing that at the age of twenty-one he was warned, by a man the speaker considered "wise," not to give his heart away. Notice that the remembered warning is in the form of a quote, rather than a paraphrase, which makes the poem's imagery and emotions more immediate. A wise person can be thought to be one who has already experienced the pain of a lost or unrequited love. Here, the wise person, who, we assume in his wisdom, also knows the value of financial stability, and the attraction of money, has warned the young speaker of the poem that being poor is better than suffering the pain and despair of lost love — of living after having given your very heart away. The images of the currency become a concrete manifestation of the contrast between things of the heart and things of the world. The inherent message in the warning is that though you need money to buy food and shelter, it would be better to go without these necessities that keep us alive than to suffer in love. 
[Back to Poem]

Lines 5-6

Here the speaker continues to quote the wise man exactly, remembering that he had warned the speaker to go even beyond giving away the standard monetary currency of "crowns," "pounds," and "guineas"; to give precious gems away, such as "pearls" and "rubies," rather than allow his "fancy," or love, to be restricted. This...
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