When I was One-and-Twenty
Almost Ballad Stanzas
Divided into two eight-line stanzas, this poem follows traditional ballad rhyme schemes: the stanzas each break neatly in half, with the second and fourth lines of each group rhyming.
Wait…how can you tell that the stanzas break into two four-line chunks? Well, for starters, check out the punctuation in these stanzas. Lines 4 and 12 each end with semi-colons, which suggests that there should be a slight pause before you move to the next line. Read it aloud to see what we mean.
Of course, the stanza doesn't stop at line 4 or 12 – in fact, that would cut the wise man's sayings in half. That's why there are two stanzas of eight lines.
When you look a bit closer at the stanzas, something else interesting happens: you see that the wise man takes up the heart of each stanza (the middle four lines), but the young man gets the first and last words. Talk about a sneaky way of allowing your poetic form to control your message! Housman makes it impossible to access the thoughts of the "wise man" without going through the consciousness of the young man first.
Other than that, the regularity of the stanza structure and the rhyme scheme give us the soothing feeling that this guy has it all under control. He's able to reflect up his life and do it without missing a beat. We've just got to trust a man as controlled as that...right?