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When I was One-and-Twenty

When I was One-and-Twenty

by A.E. Housman

Analysis: Sound Check

If they made nursery rhymes for high school-ers, we're pretty sure that they would sound a lot like this. With the oh-so-catchy rhyme scheme and cleverly repeated phrases, this poem is actually pretty tightly controlled (see what we have to say about that in "Rhyme, Form, and Meter"). To the casual reader, though, it comes off as a pretty little bit of fluff.

Check out what we mean: with all the nifty lists ("Pounds and crowns and guineas," and pearls and rubies), you could almost imagine that this was one of those Sesame Street episodes about counting.

And then there's the matter of the moral at the end of the story. After all, nursery rhymes are all about teaching you little lessons. "The Itsy Bitsy Spider"? Persistence. "Jack be Nimble"? Move fast or you'll get burned. "Little Miss Muffet"? Don't be scared of spiders. Or you'll lose your…tuffet? You get the point.

And this poem falls precisely in that category. It's even got the nifty repetitive phrasing that would make it easy for the little kiddies to remember. Housman plays up the childish quality of his poem, using the form of a kid's rhyming game to emphasize just how juvenile his speaker's mentality actually is. Then again, he could be trying to emphasize that love is child's play. Either way, his poem comes out sounding suspiciously like something written by Mother Goose!

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