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Housman’s Poem, To an Athlete Dying Young Essay

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This poem is a part of Housman’s most famous volume of work called A Shropshire Lad. In these works Housman wanted the reader to think about life and the meaning of it all. In one of Housman’s most celebrated poems “To an Athlete Dying Young”, Critics dissect the themes of staying on top eternally, dying when one is a champion, and not letting the fame fade. Critic Scott-Kilvert says that Housman “voices the familiar passions of humanity with a death dealing sweetness” (Scott-Kilvert 628)
This poem may be considered an elegy, or a piece of Romance literature. It has seven quatrains of rhymed iambic tetrameter, and each line containing eight syllables. The even numbered syllables are stressed, and the first, second, third, and fourth lines rhyme on the final syllable (Magil 3,889). The setting of the poem is in a town. The setting switches to a cemetery where the athlete is buried. The narrator of this poem is Housman who takes the persona of a resident of the town in which the athlete lived. The main character in this poem is the athlete who is a running champion but died at his peak of athletic ability. The townspeople are neighbors and admirers of the athlete. They represent the athletes’ glory and fame (Cummings, scr. 1).
In order to understand this poem one must look at the themes that are relevant throughout. “To an Athlete Dying Young” exemplifies the theme of glory. For example in this poem the athlete is glorified for the winning of the race. Even when death comes upon the athlete he is still praised by the townspeople. In addition the athlete is also commended by the dead for his wiliness to die a champion (Ruby 233). The townspeople will now remember the athlete forever at his peek of his powers instead of watching t...


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...ek culture. The second meaning of “garland” is a gathering of poetic versus, usually poems that praise life. Bruce believes that there is an irony in these two different meanings. He says “The message is that death is the ultimate victor” (Meyer 237). This seems to be the main theme of the poem but if the garland represents the second meaning then Bruce would say “What death takes away is not simply a hero but the joys and sorrows of life” (Meyer 237). In this second definition the reward of life may be greater than the fame earned.
“To an Athlete Dying Young” shows the reader different concepts on life. Fame will fade as life continues, so in order to preserve fame one must face death. The views on this poem range from right to left but they all come back to the same major idea. That if one wants to be a champion eternally; one must die a champion for eternity.


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