Monday, December 1, 2008

"When I Was One-and-Twenty" (Housman)

"When I Was One-and-Twenty," by A. E. Housman

(William Bloom)

When studying a work of the Twentieth Century, one should take care to denote the portion of the Twentieth Century one is discussing. Truly, the world of H.H. Asquith and David Lloyd George differs wildly from the world of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Turn of the century works such as A.E. Housman’s “When I was One-and-Twenty,” written in 1895, have the indelible marks of post-Victorian mores, if not an outright denial of established society.

“When I was One-and-Twenty” provides the story of a young narrator who recounts advice offered to him by an older “wise man.” Specifically, in the first stanza, the man suggests to the narrator that he may “
Give crowns and pounds and guineas, But not your heart away.” The sage advice goes so far as to suggest that even parting with pearls and jewels is far better than the heartache giving one’s heart to another can bring. The narrator notes, however, that, at the tender age of “one-and-twenty,” he refused to take such advice.

In the second stanza, the narrator reiterates the message of the wiser man, who states that “The heart out of the bosom, Was never given in vain; Tis paid with sighs a plenty, And sold for endless rue.” Ironically, now that the narrator is “two-and-twenty,” he recognizes how true the wise man’s words are.

Told with a rhyme scheme of “
ABCBCDAD,” the first stanza offers the sort of advice that comes only with age: As valuable as earthly riches may seem, matters of the heart have the ability to prove all the more damaging. The narrator suggests that due to his young age, he could not possibly have accepted such advice. The second stanza, using a rhyme scheme of “ABCBADAD,” seemingly begins with a reiteration of the wise man’s words. In truth, however, having matured a year, the narrator now finds the wise man’s advice painfully true, an implication that the narrator gained such knowledge through experience. This passing of a year proves humorous to some extent, as there is in all actuality very little difference in the maturity of a twenty-one year old and twenty-two year old. Housman thus suggests that only through experiencing hardship, rather than enjoying the mere passage of years, can life’s most important lessons be garnered.

It is hard to imagine Housman penning a work such as “When I was One-and-Twenty” in the latter part of the Twentieth Century, a period noted for its so-called “youth culture” that heaped praise upon youthful ideas at the expense of older, more conservative customs. As the birth-place of Modernism, writing in Twentieth Century Britain certainly took aim at customs held dear during the Victorian period. Housman certainly utilizes the style of many Twentieth Century poets, specifically regarding the brevity of his work. If Housman proves nothing else, however, this abandonment of the old order did not occur over night. “When I was One-and-Twenty,” through its simplicity, argues that not only can matters of the heart prove more crushing than the loss of monetary wealth but that an older, battle scarred generation still has sound advice for their younger counterparts.

Further Reading

Biography of A.E. Housman -

Further Criticism of “When I was One-and-Twenty”

1 comment:

yoshi said...

pls help me to answer ths ff....

1.) what are the rhyming words?
2.) write the rhyme scheme.
3.) describe the rhythm and what it conveys.
4.) write down the words that are symbolic and the idea that they symbolize. me to answer this all....tnx :)) i need it very much..