A. E. Housman's 'To an Athlete Dying Young'

Essay by John WardUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, November 1994

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A. E. Housman's 'To an Athlete Dying Young,' also known as

Lyric XIX in A Shropshire Lad, holds as its main theme the

premature death of a young athlete as told from the point of view

of a friend serving as pall bearer. The poem reveals the concept

that those dying at the peak of their glory or youth are really

quite lucky. The first few readings of 'To an Athlete Dying Young'

provides the reader with an understanding of Housman's view of

death. Additional readings reveal Housman's attempt to convey the

classical idea that youth, beauty, and glory can be preserved only

in death.

A line-by-line analysis helps to determine the purpose of the

poem. The first stanza of the poem tells of the athlete's triumph

and his glory filled parade through the town in which the crowd

loves and cheers for him. As Bobby Joe Leggett defines at this

point, the athlete is 'carried of the shoulders of his friends

after a winning race' (54).

In Housman's words:

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. (Housman 967).

Stanza two describes a much more somber procession. The athlete is

being carried to his grave. In Leggett's opinion, 'The parallels

between this procession and the former triumph are carefully drawn'

(54). The reader should see that Housman makes another reference

to 'shoulders' as an allusion to connect the first two stanzas:

Today, the road all runners come,

Shoulder high we bring you home,

And set you at the threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town. (967)

In stanza three Housman describes the laurel growing 'early' yet

dying 'quicker than a rose.' (967) This parallels 'the...