The poems, “To Sir John Lade, on His Coming of Age” by Samuel Johnson and “When I Was One-and-Twenty” by A.E. Housman, both reveal the youth’s unwillingness to listen to a wise man’s advice; this leads to hardships later in life. With an optimistic tone, Housman’s poem shows the young adult that hardships can be overcome; unlike the derisive tone portrayed in Johnson’s poem, which has little sympathy and sees no hope for the twenty-one year old. However, both poems’ use of figurative language, structure, and symbols tie in the overall message of overcoming difficulties in an adolescent’s life.
Housman creates an optimistic tone through his connotative diction in his poem. The speaker of this poem intends to give serious advice when it comes to the young person’s heart. The wise man avises, “Give crowns and pounds and guineas/ But not your heart away…” (line 3-4) The overall message used here is that the heart is more precious that all the riches the man could have. Housman’s diction sheds light to the upside of being a young adult; it shows that life as a young adult is worth the ride because of expression. His optimistic tone adds to his purpose of wanting to give the youth sound advice about protecting their heart. In contrast, Johnson writes using a derisive tone with trite diction in his poem.
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Johnson uses the words “loosened” (line 5) and “wild” (line 7) to show the lack of caution in youth. He even incorporates words such as “prey” (line 13) and “grave” (line 16) that sends out a negative message about the youth. This trite diction shows that the youth are full of pride and have no wisdom; harm is caused by their own ignorant decisions.
Overall, Johnson creates a derisive tone while trying to warn young men about the dangers of their youthful thinking by doing it in a sarcastic way. Both poems incorporate figurative language to give more detail as to how the youth are prone to making mistakes in their early lives. Housman writes using a hyperbole, “Give pearls away and rubies/ But keep your fancy free.” (lines 5-6) Here Housman warns the young man to not let his heart get entangled in a passing fling.
This exaggeration adds to the importance he places on the man’s heart so that he doesn’t get his heart broken later in life. The speaker makes note of the importance of being mindful during adolescence. Johnson comments on the twenty-one year old’s free-witted spirit with his simile, “Wild as wind, and light as feather” in line 7. Johnson’s simile refers to the carefree and reckless behavior of the youth. However, unlike Housman, Johnson talks about the youth’s behavior as being inevitable.
Both poems still manage to comment on the minds of the youth which they should stay mindful and careful of. Both poems are written in iambic pentameter that creates a rhythm in both poems; this natural flow suggests how natural unnecessary hardships follow youthful behavior. Housman’s poem follows a ballad rhyme scheme with the stanzas breaking in half. The wise man takes up the four middle lines, “Give crown and pounds and guineas… But keep your fancy free.” (lines 3-6) Housman writes this to show that thoughts of the wise man before telling the conscience of the young man first. Furthermore, the control of the poem’s rhyme scheme also adds credibility to trust the wise man’s advice.
Johnson’s poem is written in trochaic trentameter which enhances his sarcastic tone. The finals line of the poem does not fit the ABAB rhyme scheme, “You can hang or drown at last.” (line 28) this line instead is a slant rhyme. It ultimately draws attention to the final line of the poem- the poet’s actual intentions.
They also both utilize symbols in their poems such as the heart and wealth. Housman writes, “The heart out of the bosom/ Was never given in vain…” (lines 9-10). This shows that the young man has been burned in the past and refers to the heart as something that can actually be ripped out of the chest and exchanged for other things. This symbols adds to the wise man’s idea that the heart is more valuable than riches and that it should remain in control of the young man.
The idea of wealth plays a part in Johnson’s poem when he writes, “Wealth, Sir John, was made to wander…” (line 17). Instead of giving serious advice, the wise man in Johnson’s poem gives ironic advice by telling Sir John to spend his money however he likes. In reality, Sir John ends up taking the advice literally by spending all the money he inherited from his father’s land. The irony about wealth in Johnson’s poem sums up the main idea of how the youth is ignorant when it comes to wealth and money. Both poems advise the youthful audience about unnecessary hardships in life. Housman’s use of hyperbole, meter, symbols, and optimistic tone suggest that through their wisdom, adolescence can be overcome.
Johnson’s use of simile, meter, symbols, and derisive tone shows that being a young adult will eventually result in death- there is no hope for the youth anyways.