"When I was One-and-Twenty" is a poem written by A.E. Housman, published in his collection "A Shropshire Lad" in 1896. The poem is written in rhymed couplets and has a simple, straightforward structure that reflects the speaker's youthful naivety and immaturity.
In the first line, the speaker says "When I was one-and-twenty." The number "one-and-twenty" refers to the age of 21, which was considered a milestone for young men in the Victorian era. At this age, they were considered to have reached adulthood and were expected to take on the responsibilities of manhood.
The second line reads "I heard him say again, / 'The heart out of the bosom was never given: / 'Tis paid with all the life, and all the all, / And the pain of all the labour you do.'" The speaker is recalling a conversation they had with an older man when they were 21, in which the man told them that the heart is not something that can be given away lightly. Instead, it must be paid for with all of one's life, labor, and pain.
The third line, "As they spoke, they looked down on the ground," suggests that the conversation took place outdoors and that the speaker and the older man were looking at the ground as they talked. This line also implies that the conversation was serious and perhaps even somber.
The fourth line, "And I saw, with empty hands and empty staring, / That I had given all to love, and all was caring," reveals the speaker's realization that they have given all of themselves to love, and that all they have left is care and concern for the object of their affection.
In the fifth line, the speaker says "And I went, with a load of ignorance, / And rue my youth and knowledge, and am full of grief." This line shows the speaker's regret for their youthful naivety and lack of understanding. They feel that they have made mistakes and are now weighed down by the burden of their ignorance.
The sixth and final line reads "As they spoke, they looked down on the ground, / And I saw, with empty hands and empty gazing, / That I had given all to love, and all was lost." This line repeats the imagery of the speaker and the older man looking at the ground, suggesting that the speaker is still thinking about the conversation and the lessons they learned from it. The repetition of the phrase "empty hands and empty gazing" underscores the speaker's sense of loss and regret.
Overall, "When I was One-and-Twenty" is a poignant reflection on the experience of youthful love and the lessons that can be learned from it. Through the speaker's conversation with the older man and their own reflection on the past, the poem explores themes of love, loss, and the importance of understanding the true cost of the heart.