Study Guide

When I was One-and-Twenty Speaker

By A.E. Housman

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When it comes right down to it, our speaker has the emotional maturity of a fifth grader. Sure, being twenty-one nowadays means you're pretty much an adult. You can drive, you can vote, and now the U.S. of A. recognizes your right to drink legally.

What about back in the nineteenth century? Well, if you were a woman, you were practically over the hill at twenty-one! Maybe that's why it's so strange that our speaker seems so…juvenile. "Love is Big. Love is Scary. Who needs feelings anyway?" C'mon, folks. Doesn't that sound like the soundtrack to just about every conversation about girls (or boys) you had when you were in elementary school?

Of course, our good friend is grown-up enough to realize that love can be seen as a commodity – it can be bought and sold like money or jewels. We could even say that our speaker has a good grasp on dollars. Just not on sense. Hehe.

Then again, there's always the possibility that our speaker is gaming us. He could be faking his sincerity in order to make us despise him (and through him, the types of love he wants) in order to get us to be cynical about love…just like him. That, quite frankly, would be a pretty smooth move.

What would that look like? Well, he'd be speaking with his tongue pretty firmly lodged in his cheek throughout the whole poem. Think he's a wimp? Well, that's because he wants you to think so. Then maybe you'll think love is for wimps. See what we mean?

Whether our speaker's playing it straight or slant, though, the effect is the same: he's a bit weak. A bit out of touch. And maybe just a little bit whiny. After all, who ends a relationship and then spends their next few months talking about how love is totally not worth it?

This guy. That's who.

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