When I Was One and Twenty (with apologies to A.E. Housman)

Five years ago in the summer of 2017 I posted my apologetic version of British poet A.E. Housman’s classic poem “When I was One and Twenty” published in 1896 in a collection called A Shropshire Lad. Housman, who was born in 1859 and died in 1936, had partially funded the publication of A Shropshire Lad following a publisher’s rejection. In today’s jargon, we call that self-publishing. The book has been in continuous print since then so somewhere in London a poetry publisher in the last decade of the nineteenth century cursed himself on a Roman British tablet…or on something equally appropriate.

Good news. I have updated my poem from five years ago, but before I wax poetic, I felt it might be helpful to share the original. The following was copied without permission from The Poetry Foundation.

When I Was One-and-Twenty

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.
Interesting aside, Wikisneaks reports Housman met a young man named Moses Jackson when he was in St. John’s College at Oxford, developed a homosexual attraction for him which was not returned, and promptly failed his Finals in humiliation. I can personally identify with unrequited love in a college setting but thankfully focused on academics to graduate cum laude. But then, my poetry wasn’t brilliant.
When I was One and Twenty

(With apologies to A.E. Housman)

When I was one and twenty,

My world was make-believe.

A play directed by others

I felt compelled to please.

But now I’m one and seventy,

The play is on the shelf.

No lines to learn, no marks to hit,

The director is myself.

(August, 2017)

Here’s my revised efforts five years later

When I Was One and Twenty (with apologies to A.E. Housman)

When I was one and twenty,

I waited for love to find me

In the depths of a study hall.

But love never came, the nights were long

As youth slipped away in a pall.

But now I’m six and seventy,

The curtain takes a call.

Love came in time, the nights are sublime

Away, long away, from the time in the study hall.


Okay. Clearly I haven’t captured “brilliant” in the intervening years.

About Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is a personal historian, essayist with humorist tendencies, lesbian activist, truth seeker and speaker in the tradition of other female Texas storytellers including her paternal grandmother. In December, 2017, the University of South Carolina Press published her collection of first-person accounts of a few of the people primarily responsible for the development of LGBTQ organizations in South Carolina. Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home will resonate with everyone interested in LGBTQ history in the South during the tumultuous times from the AIDS pandemic to marriage equality. She has published five nonfiction books including two memoirs, an essay compilation and two collections of her favorite blogs from I'll Call It Like I See It. Her first book, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing received a Golden Crown Literary Society Award in 2008. Her writings have been included in various anthologies - most recently the 2017 Saints and Sinners Literary Magazine. Her latest book, Four Ticket Ride, was released in January, 2019. She is a displaced Texan living in South Carolina with her wife Teresa Williams and their dogs Spike, Charly and Carl. She is also Naynay to her two granddaughters Ella and Molly James who light up her life for real. Born in rural Grimes County, Texas in 1946 her Texas roots still run wide and deep.
This entry was posted in Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to When I Was One and Twenty (with apologies to A.E. Housman)

  1. JosieHolford says:

    Always good to read a little Housman also a refreshed Housman!
    Not entirely relevant to your updated ditty I was reminded of this parody that digs at Housman’s focus on the deaths of young men.

    Poem, after A. E. Housman
    by Hugh Kingsmill
    What, still alive at twenty-two,
    A clean, upstanding chap like you!
    Sure, if your throat ’tis hard to slit,
    Slit your girl’s, and swing for it.

    Like enough, you won’t be glad
    When they come to hang you, lad:
    But bacon’s not the only thing
    That’s cured by hanging from a string.

    So, when the spilt ink of the night
    Spreads o’er the blotting-pad of light
    Lads whose job is still to do
    Shall whet their knives, and think of you.

    Liked by 1 person

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