My birthday is this month and so I thought it would be fun to propose a reflective, age-related, poetry writing prompt.
When I was 0ne-and-twenty
By A.E. Housman
WHEN I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
’Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.
A Note on the Vocabulary:
If you are working with children or young adults, you may need to explain:
- “Pounds” and “guineas” are money.
- “Bosom” is an anatomical term for the chest.
- “In Vain,” in this context, means—for nothing.
- “Rue” means sorrow.
Two keys for modeling a poem after “When I was one-and-twenty” are to observe that the poem reflects on a time when the narrator was a certain age, and it refers to advice the narrator was given but did not follow.
To prepare you might want to brainstorm a list of interesting ages in your life or a list of advice you have been given and did not follow , or both.
After you have generated a reasonable list, choose the topic for your poem.
“When I was one-and-twenty” consists of two stanzas (think paragraphs only stanzas in poetry are not always required to complete an idea) of eight lines each.
Each stanza is composed of two quatrains (four line units of poetry). The first quatrain has an ABAB rhyming pattern (meaning lines one and three end with words that rhyme with each other, as do lines two and four). The second quatrain, or second half of the first stanza, has a CDED rhyme scheme (lines six and eight end with words that rhyme).
The second stanza mirrors this pattern only backwards. In the first quatrain only the second and fourth lines need to rhyme with each other, and in the final quatrain, lines thirteen and fifteen need to rhyme with lines one and three, and lines 14 and 16 need to rhyme with lines two and four.
Two things to note:
- The rhyming pattern of the first four and last four lines of the poem adds punch to the final stanza.
- Some of the rhyming is achieved through the actual repetition of previous lines or parts of previous lines.
When writing your poem, you can try to mimic this structure completely or only partially. If rhyming isn’t your thing and you love free verse, write your poem that way if you wish. Just make sure the topic is a period in the narrator’s life and advice received and not followed.
When done, read what you’ve written with your writing partners or share as a comment. Compliment one another’s poems with a particular focus on word choice, the sound and fluency of the poem, and of course on the content. You can probably stay up all night talking about the lessons learned.