Housman used two short stanzas, of four lines each, within ‘With rue my heart is laden.’ This means there are a few details for readers to analyze, and one is required to use their imagination in order to envision the young men and women the speaker once knew, the wide brooks, and the fading fields of roses.
Explore With rue my heart is laden
‘With rue my heart is laden’ by A.E. Housman is a poem about aging, regret, and the beauty of one’s youth.
In the first stanza of this poem, the speaker acknowledges that he is filled with bitter regret for the loss of his youth and the beauty it was filled with. He focuses the images on beautiful young men and young women with whom he spent his time. In the second stanza, he describes the women as sleeping and the men as laying on the ground in a field where “roses fade.” Here, he is suggesting that no matter the power of one’s youth and the beauty and pleasure that a company that, these things are all doomed to fade with time.
Structure and Form
‘With rue my heart is laden’ by A.E. Housman is a two-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD. The lines of the poem are also quite similar in length, nearly containing the same number of syllables per line (ranging between six and eight).
Throughout ‘With rue my heart is laden,’ the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or words at the beginning of lines. For example, “For” at the beginning of lines two and three of the first stanza and “The” at the beginning of lines two and three of the second stanza.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza.
- Imagery: can be seen with the poet uses especially effective examples and descriptions. For example, “By brooks too broad for leaping / The lightfoot boys are laid.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “By brooks too broad” and “boys” in lines one and two of the second stanza and “fields” and “fade” in the last line of the poem.
With rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.
In the first stanza of Housman’s poem, the speaker begins with the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. In this first line, the speaker is saying that his heart is “laden” with, or filled with, “rue.” Rue is a feeling of bitter regret for something that one has done or allowed to happen. In this case, he is filled with “rue” for the “golden friends” he had.
The speaker is looking back on his life and recalling it with the fondest of emotions. He regrets that he’s no longer a part of the life he used to have and no longer is able to spend time with the “rose-lipt” women and the “lightfoot lads.” The speaker is idealizing the past in such a way to where it feels perfect and even dreamlike. The past is no longer accessible to him, and he’s mourning that fact.
By describing his friends as “Golden,” he is defining their beauty and their moral hearts. These were good, kind, and remarkable people that he knew. Rather than providing readers with any specific details as to who these men and women were, he instead describes him as “rose-lipt maiden[s]” and “lightfoot lad[s].” These interesting adjective choices help readers envision beautiful young women and energetic and athletic young men with whom the speaker used to be acquainted.
By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
In fields where roses fade.
In the second stanza of ‘With rue my heart is laden,’ the poet makes use of many of the same words and images that he utilized in the first stanza. Here, he recalls the “brooks too broad for leaping” that he spends time alongside with his “Golden” friends. These wide streams and rivers, especially in their youth, seemed insurmountable. The simple imagery that Housman provides in these lines forces the reader to use their imagination to envision the rest of the scene.
Throughout, the speaker utilizes a peaceful and nostalgic tone. But, in his final lines, the tone feels sadder than when the poem began. This is due to the poet’s reference to the girls “sleeping” and where the “boys are laid.” This suggests that the golden hours of his youth are long past; the men and women he knew have moved on to different lives or even passed away (something that he depicts through images of the boys and girls sleeping).
The final image is of a “field where roses fade.” It’s here he places the sleeping boys and girls. The roses are utilized as a symbol of the boys’ and girls’ fading beauty and the loss of the past. Roses, like all flowers, are temporary. By including this image at the end of his poem, Housman is acknowledging that happiness, youth, and beauty are just as temporary.
The main theme of this poem is regret. This is coupled with themes of the past and youth. The speaker looks back, though simple images, on his youth and the people he used to know. He acknowledges that all of these beautiful images have faded.
It is unclear who the speaker of this particular problem is. But, it may be the poet himself. But, the identity of the speaker is not necessarily needed in order to figure out why the poet wrote this piece and what the major themes of it are.
The tone is one of regret and sadness. The speaker is looking back on the past with regret for having lost what he once loved. But, as the lines reveal, this is something that was broadly out of his control. He longs for the youth and beauty of those he once knew but knows now that beauty has faded.
The poet likely wrote this piece in order to explore universal feelings of regret, aging, and the beauty of youth. No matter who the speaker is in these lines, they are everyone can relate to—the loss of youth and beauty.
Readers who enjoyed ‘With rue my heart is laden‘ should also consider reading some other A.E. Housman poems. For example:
- ‘Loveliest of Trees’ – a joyful nature poem in which the speaker describes how powerful the image of cherry blossom trees is in his life. He takes a great deal of pleasure from looking at them.
- ‘Because I Liked You Better’ – a love poem that taps on the theme of unrequited love. Like his “A Shropshire Lad” poems, it also touches on the theme of death.
- ‘He would not stay for me, and who can wonder’ – appears in A. E. Housman’s “Additional Poems.” It taps on the themes of separation and leave-taking.