“To an Athlete Dying Young” by A. E. Housman Analysis

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Introduction of “To an Athlete Dying Young”

“To an Athlete Dying Young” by A. E. Housman is a sad poem that sheds light on a surprising death of a young player. The poem captures the end of a person at the height of glory. First published in 1896, the poem explains the early death of a person who won praise and respect from his townspeople by winning a race. The poem is lauded worldwide as it brings into light the phenomenon of the transience of life.

Summary of “To an Athlete Dying Young”

This brilliant poetic piece presents a young speaker who accounts for the death of an athlete’s short yet glorious life. The poem begins when the speaker details his youthful accomplishment. He directly addresses the player and reminds him how he won glory for his people by winning a race. His citizens celebrated this victory with great zeal and zest. It was the time when everyone was singing praise for him as he made them proud at a very young age. 

Now, the same people are carrying his corpse on their shoulders and taking him to his resting place. Although he lived a short life, he set an unbeatable historical record. The poem ends when the speaker says that the athlete will not witness the sorrow his demise brought to the people.  

Major Themes in “To an Athlete Dying Young”

The poem’s major themes are the transience of life, victory and unavoidable death. The poem expresses two things; the grandeur and spectacular victory of an athlete and his surprising early death. At first, the speaker accounts for his incredible accomplishments and then shows how he died during his prime time.

Although he died young, the aggrieved townspeople will not forget his power and fame. His legacy will shine for good; his achievement will remain the talk of the town. Through this simple poem, the speaker tries to show how legends stay in hearts even after leaving this world. Their outstanding efforts to make their people proud make them live a thousand lives. Also, the poem discusses death as an unavoidable phenomenon; everyone has to taste death.

“To an Athlete Dying Young” by A. E. Housman Analysis

Analysis of Literary/Poetic Devices Used in the Poem

Although the poem is clear and straightforward, yet A. E. Housman has added many poetic and literary devices to the poem to clarify its meaning to the readers. He has divided this poem into seven quatrains, and in each stanza, he presents the factual description of the life and death of an unknown athlete. While using the ABAB rhyme scheme, the writer has given this poem a flow and musical touch, such as; “Today, the road all runners come/Shoulder-high we bring you home.”

Moreover, the writer has used tactile and visual imagery throughout the poem to express his surprise over the death of a known athlete. The absorbing images used in the poem beautifully connect the readers to the poem’s subject matter. Similarly, images like “field,” “echoes fade,” and “changing-cup” symbolize life and death. The use of symbolism makes the readers understand the layered meaning of the poem.

Another important literary device the writer has used in this poem is a metaphor. Housman has used death as an extended metaphor in the poem to show how one quits all his duties when death arrives to take him along. Personification is yet another literary device used in the poem. The writer has used “eyes that shady night shut.” Here, the writer personified night.

In-depth Analysis of “To an Athlete Dying Young”

Stanza#1

The poem’s opening stanza sheds light on the outstanding achievement of the athlete. He talks about the time he won an important race and was adored by his people. His townspeople celebrated this grand event by picking him high on their shoulders.

Stanza#2

In the second stanza, the tone of the poem becomes sad. The writer says that now the same people are bringing his corpse back to where he was once treated as a hero. The writer comments on the nature of death that it ate up a young, successful and famous athlete. Death never sees anyone’s material status, age, caste and creed. Once it comes, it just makes us travel along.

Stanza#3

In the third stanza, the speaker sings praise for the deceased soul. He says that although he left for eternal abode so earl, yet he escaped the place where fame and glory never last long. To him, in this deceitful world, laurel dies faster than roses.

Stanza#4

The night of death has closed the athlete’s eyes. Now, he won’t be able to see his marvellous record broken. Moreover, he can’t hear the silence that prevailed upon his death because he has entered another world.

Stanza#5

In this stanza, the writer explains that the dead young man will not join the ranks of those whose glory faded with time. His fame will remain unbeaten, and his reputation will shine forever.

Stanza#6

This stanza could be taken as praise for his stunning glory. It tells his townspeople to set down the athlete’s casket before his historic win becomes an old tale. The writer states that either the athlete or his people should hold his trophy on his death to show that his good deed will always be remembered.

Stanza#7

In the final stanza, the speaker imagines him entering to another world. He speculates that the athlete will still be wearing his victory crown, and the other departed souls will stare at him.

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