What is the theme in "When I Was One and Twenty" by A.E Houseman?

Expert Answers
troutmiller eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first stanza simply is advice that is given to the speaker when he was 21.  The advice was that he could give away his many and material possessions, but not his heart or his emotions.  Those he was to keep control of.  However, as the youth tend to do, the speaker ignores the advice.

"Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away"

The second stanza says that the same wise man repeated his advice.  Giving away his heart would only cause him heartache in the end.

"The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue"

At the age of 22, the speaker had obviously learned the hard way.  Rather than listening from the beginning, he had to learn thorugh experience. 

This is the theme.  Youth need to learn on their own.  Sometimes just hearing advice doesn't work.  We all need to experience it for ourselves to truly learn about love.