Study Guide

When I was One-and-Twenty Quotes

  • Foolishness and Folly

    When I was one-and-twenty (1, 9)

    Here, the speaker is playing off the basic idea that young = stupid.

    I heard a wise man say, (2)

    Calling someone else wise means that, well, our speaker is comparatively less-than wise. That's another name for foolishness, friends.

    And I am two-and-twenty,
    And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true. (15-16)

    Here's the moral of the story: young man grows older. In so doing, he gets over his youthful folly. He's growing up, see? We can tell that he gets the point – if only because he starts to repeat himself to emphasize his point!

  • Love

    "Give crowns and pounds and guineas
    But not your heart away; (4-5)

    This little gem of advice has two important points: your heart is worth a lot. Mostly only to you, though. Everyone else will waste it (except maybe your mother). So, turn out your pockets in the street. That'd be a better idea than it would be to share your heart with anyone (except your mother, of course).

    Give pearls away and rubies
    But keep your fancy free." (5-6)

    So now it's not just love on the table…it's "fancy." That's a fancy word for liking someone – or even just thinking that someone is pretty hot. Know the phrase "a passing fancy"? It's meant to suggest that fancy isn't really lasting.

    "The heart out of the bosom
    Was never given in vain; (11-12)

    Notice how the heart becomes something that you lose once you give it away? It's not something to share. A little possessive? Well, yes. Yes it is. Oh, and it's also a big downer.

    The heart out of the bosom
    Was never given in vain;
    'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
    And sold for endless rue (11-14)

    And you thought that line 12 was enough of a downer? Oh, no. Friends, there is all sorts of suffering yet to come. Sighs! Rue! Notice how the quantities of each of these commodities are a bit fuzzy? How do you put a price tag on "plenty" of something? Or "endless" things? Pretty tricky, huh? We thought so, too.

  • Youth

    When I was one-and-twenty (1)

    We hear that our speaker is 21 three times. That's an awful lot of space in a poem that's only sixteen lines long! Any time that a phrase is repeated so often, chances are that it's pivotal to the work of the poem.

    But I was one-and-twenty,
    No use to talk to me. (7-8)

    Silly, silly young lad. This sort of comment is the type that no one could make in the present tense – it's the kind of self-reflection that's just a little bit self-deprecating. Plus, it's just oozing with irony and condescension for the man that he was. Good thing he's changed, huh?

    And I am two-and-twenty,
    And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true. (15-16)

    Why call yourself one-and-twenty instead of twenty-one? It's for this line, folks. See, when the big change (his birthday) rolls around, putting the "two" in front of the twenty makes it super-clear that it's the ONE YEAR difference that causes such a huge shift in his perspective. After all, twenty-one looks a lot like twenty-two. But "two-and-twenty"? Everyone can see how different that is!