Housman Essay Research Paper Analysis of A

Housman Essay, Research Paper

Analysis of A. E. Housman s To an Athlete Dying Young

Dying young is considered by most to be one of the most tragic of fates. The specter of

things undone and a life unlived haunts the funeral and colors the grief to an even darker

shade. Most people desire to live to a ripe old age and would be shocked to have a

premature death viewed in a positive light. Yet, this is exactly the driving force behind A.

E. Housman s To an Athlete Dying Young. In the poem, dying young and at the height

of your career is looked upon as fortunate. Living and watching your laurels wither away

is worse than death.

The setting is the funeral of a young champion runner. The speaker begins by talking of

when the young athlete won the town race and was carried home shoulder-high (line 4).

He then makes a reference to the young athlete being carried shoulder-high (line 6) down

the road all runners run (line 5) home. The phrase shoulder-high is an expression of

irony. The first time it is used in line 4 of the poem it refers to an exciting happy occasion.

The second time it is used in line 6, it refers to a casket being carried on the shoulders of

others, a sad and mournful time.

Rather than join the others in mourning, however, in the third stanza the speaker is

instead reflecting on how lucky the young athlete was to have died when he did:

Smart lad, to slip betimes away

From fields where glory does not stay

And early though the laurel grows

It withers quicker than the rose.

Dying was better than lingering on outlasting the glory of his victories. He speaks of

how lucky the young athlete was to have died before anyone could break his records or

before his accomplishments were forgotten.

Speaking of how quickly the laurels die, the speaker seems to put himself in the place of

the young runner with a knowledge that suggests he, too, once knew these glories.

Through the speaker s thoughts and from the sound of experience, the reader gets a

glimpse of what the speaker s life may have been like. You also get to see the runner s

life compared to the speaker s life. He speaks of having records broken, skills diminished,

and a name forgotten. It draws your sympathy away from the young dead athlete and

places it on the speaker. Instead of being a poem about the death of the athlete, the poem

becomes a statement about the life of the speaker. As one of the lads who wore their

honors out, (line 18) the speaker seems to be also mourning his own special kind of

death. The speaker talks of experiencing defeat, having your records broken, and seeing

the glory fade away the name died before the man (line 20). He talks of these things as

if he was talking about himself.

The speaker is speaking in a positive light about the young athlete s death because he sees

much of himself in the young champion. The speaker knows what would have awaited the

young athlete if he had lived to be old. He also assumes everyone will see life the way he

does. In all this process, the reader shifts pity from the dead to the living, mourning not

what was never to arrive but what did arrive and was taken away.

Housman’s poem “To an Athlete Dying Young” suggests that life is short and glory is

even shorter. A way out of this trap is to do a great deed and then slip away from this

world unnoticed. Glories have a short duration and records are quickly broken. So the

only alternative is to depart before glories wither and records are bettered.

Housman, A. E. To an Athlete Dying Young . An Introduction to Literature. 11th

Edition. Sylvan Barnet


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