Athlete Dying Young

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“To an Athlete Dying Young” by A.E. Housman is quite an unusual poem. It speaks of premature death with a celebratory tone, reserving any melancholy sentiment for the speaker, who presumably has lived a long and full life. The young man in the poem is portrayed in his shining moment in the first stanza. He wins a race for his town, and is then carried through the streets “shoulder-high” by the speaker, among others. His subsequent death, presumably soon after that, is described using similar imagery to that which depicts his championship. He again is brought home “shoulder-high,” but this time it is to his permanent home (his grave, or “threshold”), and he is lifted in deference and mourning, not celebration. In the next three stanzas the speaker bemoans his own aging and expresses his envy of the young deceased athlete. He tells of how fleeting glory found on the field is, and that although it is easily earned, “it withers quicker than a rose.” He even calls the champion a “[s]mart lad” for dying before his honor faded. Though he could be implying that the young man committed suicide and thus chose to go out on top, he more likely is simply begrudgingly calling the lad lucky for achieving what, in his mind, is more everlasting and peaceful glory. According to the speaker, the dead athlete is more happy than he because the dead “Cannot see [their] record[s] cut.” The old man, perhaps at one point a star athlete in his own right, has undoubtedly with age had to face the discomfort of seeing his own records fall. And while he has known silence and anonymity for so many years after his youthful successes, the dead youngster went out with the cheers of his championship ringing in his ears. When the old man refers to “[r]unners whom renown outran,” he is speaking of himself. He feels that his name has “died,” that he has become a nobody. While he will die cold and

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