Thursday, March 27, 2008

To An Athlete Dying Young, A.E. Housman - poem # 249




To an Athlete Dying Young, by A. E. Housman, gives the reader an alternate view of death. Rather than death in youth being a sad and mournful time, the speaker sees it as an escape from seeing your life's work forgotten and faded. The speaker of this poem takes the form of one of the deceased's friends. This can be seen from the line, "shoulder-high, we bring you home" (6) because in a funeral, it is custom for the deceased's closest friends to carry the casket. The speaker plays an ironic part in this poem, seeing life ended early as a great and lucky thing. The speaker views an early death as an escape from seeing his accomplishments forgotten and faded. The line "And early though the laurel grows/ It whithers quicker than the rose."(11-12) is a clear description of the speakers view. A laurel is an evergreen tree that is the emblem of victory, distinction, and accomplishments. Knowing this, it becomes obvious that the speaker is saying that accomplishments happen early in life and because of this, it is better to die in the glory of youth then to rest too long on one's laurels only to see them fade, beaten out, and forgotten. To the speaker, being forgotten is the worst thing that can happen to man saying, "Now you will not swell the rout/ Of lads that wore their honors out,/ Runners whom renown outran/ And the name died before the man." (17-20). The speaker is clearly envious of the deceased, and one gets the feeling that he is reflecting on his own life in this poem, on his accomplishments and how they were overshadowed by the accomplishments of others. The speaker wishes that he could have died in his prime so that he did not have to feel the pain of becoming another nameless forgotten blob in a sea of nameless blobs.


The rhyme and meter are also very important in this poem. The rhyme scheme is in AA BB format, producing a then and now feel. This is how it once was, and now this is how it is and how it will be. The meter is also important. Each line has eight syllables and when reading this poem, it seems to set a pace, much like the footsteps of a runner. This is important not only because the poem is about the life and death of a runner, but because it also shows the pace of life and life after death. It shows that life still goes on, and that life does not stop because of a death. In fact, life can erase any evidence of a deceased person's life.


There are two prominent literary devices used in this poem, personification and apostrophe. Personification can be seen in the lines "Eyes the shady night has shut" (13) and "After earth as stopped the ears" (16). Night cannot shut, and earth obviously cannot stop one's ears, it has no hands. Yet in this poem these two lines provide the reader with the feeling that death is a natural and peaceful bliss for this man, protecting him from seeing his glory fade and his fame forgotten. Apostrophe can be seen in the opening stanza "The time you won your town the race/ We chaired you through the market-place;/ Man and boy stood cheering by,/ And home we brought you shoulder-high." The speaker here is speaking to the runner as if he is still alive. By speaking in this manner throughout the poem, it feels as if he is reminiscing on the young man's life, and then reassuring him that dying young is better then dying after one's prime. This brings the reader into the poem, and makes them feel a connection to both the speaker and the young man.


When i first read this poem, I literally got tears in my eyes. I found it to be such a sad, yet beautiful poem, focusing on the life and death of a beloved athlete. I think this is why it caught my attention. But then, upon further inspection i realized that it is about one man's jealousy over the death of another, which I thought to be a bit strange. People usually want to live long happy lives, not short ones where they are cut down in their prime. Yet in a way it made sense, who wants to live to see all their records smashed and their name forgotten? No one. From the line "Smart lad, to slip bedtimes away" (9) I got the sense that the speaker was reflecting also on his own life, and how he has lived to see his fame tarnished. He views the athlete as smart because he died before he was able to feel the pain of his hard work gone to waist. Even though I may not agree with the speaker and his view of death, I still find this poem to be extremely touching and well written, a reflection on the glory of life, and the 'luxury' (as the speaker would call it) of eternal slumber.

19 comments:

K-Fed said...

I also did this same poem. You mention that the speaker is jealous of the athlete dying young. I do not feel that he is jealous of the situation. I never got the sense that he would rather die young and be remembered instead of living out life to the fullest. Through the author's use of irony, the speaker is simply commenting on how if your going to die young, it is better to do it after acomplishing something big. I'm having difficulty explaining my train of thought here, but go check out my blog to get a better understanding.

Mr. Klimas said...

Good job.

Joshua said...

I also disagree with the analysis of the speaker being jealous. I felt that when he referred to the athlete as a "smart lad..." he was speaking of the increased fame and immortality of that fame stemming from his early death.

Justin said...

The font color is horrible here, just saying. Can hardly read this :(

David said...

thanks for all the comments and everything guys, it has helped with my english class a lot. Also, if anyone has trouble reading the pink part because of the font colour, just highlight it, it makes it much easier.

Rachel said...

I agree that the author is jealous. I believe the author feels he has "overlived" his life and he has passed his "peak" of accomplishments. The author does not want to be forgotten and therefore he speaks about how dieing young while you are still glorious, will enable you to be remembered by others.

kgmason11 said...

i also believe that the speaker is not jealous. he is merely giving another view to early death at the peak of one; life. he is sayiing that one shoud not view an athletes death at as a bad thing when he is in the zenith of his carreer but view it as a good thing. alot of athlete eventually turn to drugs and other sort of thing when they see that there careering is falln apart becuz they are no longer hte best

Bryan said...

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Bryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan said...

sorry 4 that....thanks 4 the better understanding i didnt get it at all now i dooo!!!!!!!!!

jake said...

"And home we brought you shoulder-high" is just saying how they brought him home on their shoulders as an act of celebration. It is not mentioned until the third stanza that the runner has died. Also, the jealously thing is wrong as well and the font hurts my eyes.

Nancy P said...

The speaker is definitely not jealous of the runner's death. In fact, he is observing that, in dying young, this athlete and his accomplishments are forever immortalized. Much like Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana, both of whom died at the height of their fame and popularity, this athlete's death at the height of his career will make him far more memorable than those "whom renown outran and the name died before the man". In simple terms, this athlete will never become a "has-been" because he has not lived long enough to see his career fade into the distant past. Hope that makes some sense. :)

Anna said...

Oh foolish ones! As my wise Language Arts teacher says, "It is up to whoever analyzes a literary work to make their analysis true. It is by the evidence one chooses to use that makes it accurate (or not), therefore there can be multiple correct ways to interpret literary works."

So while those who do not see the jealous aspect, every evidence CAN prove it to be true, but one can also fight against it to equally prove it not to be true, but the evidence is so arbitrary that these both are correct.

Doyin said...

I disagree with those that said the author is jealous. It never appears to be. The author is just trying to view death at young age from another angle, and he has used appropriate stylistics to drive home his point. At first I felt he is stupid for him to rejoice at the death of a young achiever, but I later discover he is trying to console people that such might have happened to. I think the family of the popular Nigerian artist-Dagrin- will find this poem consoling. All the same personally, I love the poem for the musical effect produced through the Rhythm and the Rhyme scheme employed.

Doyin said...

I disagree with those that said the author is jealous. It never appears to be. The author is just trying to view death at young age from another angle, and he has used appropriate stylistics to drive home his point. At first I felt he is stupid for him to rejoice at the death of a young achiever, but I later discover he is trying to console people that such might have happened to. I think the family of the popular Nigerian artist-Dagrin- will find this poem consoling. All the same personally, I love the poem for the musical effect produced through the Rhythm and the Rhyme scheme employed.

ashley months said...

thanks for the annalysis..it really helped me..but the color of the writing is horrbibe!!!..i had a really hard time reading this but thanks for the annalysis any way...and yes the writer was jealous of the athlete dying young .

prettyj_123 said...

I do not think the speaker is jealous of the young athlete but rather is congratulating him for slipping betimes away. It seems as though the speaker is happy for the athlete. The death of the athlete is actually made evident in stanza two of the poem. It says 'shoulder-high we bring you home' and this is exactly how the casket is brought by the bereaved.It also says 'bring' which shows that presently the athlete is dead and is being brought the grave. "And set you at your threshold down" this is showing that the athlete is being placed into the ground."Townsman of a stiller town" this suggests that the athlete is no longer the townsman of the town he once lived, but is the townsman of a stiller town - the cemetery. He is now the townsman- an impotant figure in the town of the dead - the cemetery.

Matthew Vukovic said...

Just highlight the text if the font colour bothers your eyes.

Matthew Vukovic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.