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When I was One-and-Twenty

When I was One-and-Twenty

by A.E. Housman

It's All About the Money

Symbol Analysis

If you've read Karl Marx, you've probably learned that commodities make the world go 'round. That seems to be the general opinion of this poem, as well. Feelings get compared to all sorts of objects – just like the stuff you own, your heart can be weighed and calculated and sold. Know how much gold goes for on the market? Well, pretty soon you'll be able to trade your heart on the NASDAQ, as well. Bet you didn't know that, did you? Despite all the sing-song-y lyrics, this poem conceals a pretty shrewd analysis of the "worth" of emotion.

  • Lines 3-4: Comparing your heart to pounds sets up an image that allows you metaphorically weigh your heart against gold.
  • Lines 5-6: The repetitive structures of these lines, which are remarkably similar to lines 3-4, reinforce the sense that hearts can be bought and sold.
  • Line 11-12: If you're a good student of capitalism, you know that giving anything away is a "vain" enterprise. These lines help build an elaborate conceit (an extended metaphor) comparing the heart to a commodity.
  • Lines 13-14: Continuing to build the metaphor of the heart as a commodity, these lines use market terms like "paid" and "sold" to create an economic analysis of emotion.

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