To An Athlete Dying Young
Literary Analysis Of To An Athlete Dying Young By A.E. Housman
The poem “To An Athlete Dying Young” by A.E. Housman, is an overall melancholy poem that expresses the notion that a premature death can be beneficial to successful athletes. The speaker utilizes a rhyme scheme, tone and symbolism to imply that it is better to die in one’s heyday rather than to live to a ripe old age just to see all their achievements diminish and become inconsequential to everybody.
Housman utilizes a simple AABB rhyme scheme throughout the poem. For example in stanza one, the lines one and two end with “…race” and “…place” while lines three and four end with “…by” and “…high”. By providing this easy to recognize rhyme scheme, the reader can quickly identify it and know what to expect from the poem form wise. This presents the reader with the sense of certainty because they know that every two consecutive lines will have a rhyme. It also serves to give comfort to the reader by giving them this certainty because the topic of death is an unpleasant thing to think about due the uncertainty of it. The runner had died unexpectedly at a young age. Life is uncertain. One does not know when or how they will die. No one knows if they will be remembered after they have passed or if anybody would care. The form reflects our desire to have certainty in such an uncertain world.
Housman uses a tone shift from stanza one to stanza two. In stanza one, there is a joyous, nostalgic tone as an athlete is being celebrated when the townspeople “chaired the runner through the market-place”. Stanza two starts with “To-day, the road all runners come”, meaning the runner has gone to meet his maker. The runner is once again being carried on the shoulders of the townspeople, but this time the runner is in a casket being carried to his grave. Not only does the situation shift between the stanzas one and two, but also the tone. The tone shifted from jubilant to melancholy. This shift occurred so that the speaker could go on to make his point about how glory can only be attained perpetually by dying after achieving it.
The laurel wreath is a prominent symbol in “To An Athlete Dying Young.” A laurel wreath is usually placed on the heads of victorious athletes back in ancient Greece and it is an important symbol of triumph in this poem. By asserting in the third stanza that the laurel grows early, the speaker suggests that the peak of a runner’s success is achieved when they are in their youth. However, once picked, the laurel “withers quicker than the rose”. This symbolizes how brief fame and glory is after achieving it. But because the runner died at a young age, his glory and fame will remain intact, and the laurel will remain ‘unwithered on the runner’s curls’.
“To An Athlete Dying Young” provides a strong theme that dying at the peak of one’s achievements allow their greatness to live on through the memories of their admirers. The early deaths of people like Bruce Lee, Tupac, Aaliyah, and Steve Irwin all seem to support the validity of Housman’s perception of glory. Because they lost their lives when they were still considerably young, death gave them everlasting life in the minds of their fans and they are still being honored and celebrated today.
Poetry Exploitation: “To An Athlete Dying Young” By A.E. Housman
“To An Athlete Dying Young” by A.E. Housman is a powerful poem that communicates that an athlete has died a winner and the author displays death in a positive light. The writer A.E. Housman shows a fondness for this athlete. This man doesn’t die a bad death according to the author but he dies a legend by winning a race for his town. The author is trying to show the reader how the athlete dying young may be a good thing because fame and glory begins to fade when you are alive but once a person dies they are much more appreciated and the man dies after taking a big win which results in the town viewing him as a legend.
In this poem diction and imagery are used to display the man’s achievement before his death. The words “chaired”, “shoulder-high”, “glory”, “cheers”, “challenge-cup”, and “garland” communicate how this man accomplished the goal of winning the race for his town. He died achieving something great; he died with honor and with a whole town celebrating him. Diction such as “away”, “does not stay”, “shut”, “strengthless dead” all emphasize the athletes death. The writer states, “Smart lad, to slip betimes way” which expresses that this death wasn’t seen as a tragedy but an accomplishment. The imagery displays both victory and death. The man being carried by a crowd home show heroic imagery. Stanza two makes a huge shift because the crowd is no longer celebrating but instead athlete is being carried to the graveyard by mourning family and friends which also displays an image to the reader. The imagery in this poem does not depend on figurative language in the beginning of the poem but as the poem goes on it does depend on figurative language.
Figurative language is displayed in this poem by the literary devices personification and apostrophe. In line 20, Personification is used when the author states, “And the name died before the man” implying a name could die and in line 13 the author states, “Eyes the shady night has shut” implying that a shady night can shut eyes. In line 16, the author states, “After earth has stopped the ear” implying the earth can stop an ear. Apostrophe is used because the author is speaking about someone is is absent, the athlete is dead. The author uses syntax of going back and forth between speaking about victory and death. The poem consists of complete sentences because we can see each idea is finished before the next line begins. Verbs are more prevalent in this poem. The poem uses caesura to make pauses between lines.
The tone of the poem, “To An Athlete Dying Young” is reminiscent, melancholy, and peaceful. The author has found peace in the athletes death due to the fact that it has had a positive impact on the athletes title. The tone shifts from celebratory to sad, from victory to death. The reader feels celebratory for this athlete but it becomes mournful when the athlete dies immediately after his victory but the author brings light to the athletes death emphasizing that death has created a legend, life wouldn’t have. The idea of the poem is bitter-sweet.
The poem “To An Athlete Dying Young” has a very powerful theme that your greatest accomplishments and your greatness can live on after death. The dead athlete is praised for dying young because now he will be remembered in glory and not forgotten. When you die old most of the time your greatness begins to fade but when you die at your greatest peak you become a legend. The author finds positivity in death which most of us would find awful. Memories are truly important because that’s how we all leave a mark on this earth when we die. Sometimes the worst things in life are working for our best.
Comparison of Dylan Thomas’, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night Poem and A.E Housman’s To an Athlete Dying Young, Based on the Dying Light Theme
Explication of Poetry
In “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, Dylan Thomas is encouraging the reader to fight death when it comes, stating that men should “rage against the dying of the light” (Line 9). He is speaking generally at first, referencing several different types of men and how they handle death when it approaches. Collectively, Thomas is stating that men as a whole do not welcome death with open arms; rather, they “rage” against it. This poem discusses the theme of “dying light” mainly in lines 1-3: “Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rave at the close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light” (Lines 1-3).
In “To an Athlete Dying Young”, A. E. Housman writes about a young athlete who died before his time. He begins by reflecting on a time when the athlete won races and the town carried him home on their shoulders. He then shifts back to the present; the town is burying the athlete. Housman continues on to say that it is better that the athlete died young, so that he didn’t see his records being broken or experience his glory being lost. The theme of “dying light” is prevalent mainly in the fourth stanza:
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears; (“To an Athlete Dying Young”, 13-16)
Housman is saying that eyes that death has shut cannot see records broken; this reiterates the idea that the athlete’s death benefited him somehow.
While both “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and “To an Athlete Dying Young” both revolve around the theme of dying light, Thomas better develops the theme. Thomas spends the entirety of his poem urging the reader to rage against death, and he gives examples of all different types of men doing so. Housman is more focused on how the athlete’s death has a silver lining, rather than the dying of the light in particular.
Differences between Death in To an Athlete Dying Young and Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night
Death is imminent. It cannot be escaped. However, the view that someone takes on the subject can drastically affect the ever-nearer darkness. When A.E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young” and Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” were written, certain ideas were aimed to be displayed and certain thoughts strived to be communicated. A poem is more than just a sequence of words. A poem is vessel by which the poet speaks their mind and shares their beliefs. One can learn a tremendous amount about a particular author just by studying their works. While Dylan Thomas and A.E. Housman’s poems are both similar in that they cover the controversial topic of death, closer evaluation will distinguish many opposing traits amongst the two poets. The poems are the most different in the main structure of the poem, the two poets’ views on life, and their ideas on what defines a person.
To start off, one must analyze the main structure of these two poems. Although it is obvious that death is the main focal point, the way the authors go about presenting the themes is one of the key differences between the two. In A.E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young”, the poem’s main character is a young, local hero who has just recently died. The hero won his fame as a runner and, at the time of his death, was glorious. The narrator is assumed to be Housman, who acts as a mourning townsperson, in a small English town during the burial of the athlete (Cummings). Despite mentioning the members of the town, the poem focuses entirely on one individual. The poem consists of seven stanzas, each containing four lines. Due to given internal structure and appearance to grieve and accept death, “To An Athlete Dying Young” has been designated as an elegy (Cummings).
On the contrary, Dylan Thomas’s poem is classified as a villanelle (“Literary Analysis”). It has six stanzas, the first five holding three lines and the last holding four. Thomas formatted his poem into what seems to be three parts: an introduction, examples of the ideas being conveyed, followed up by a personal section possibly regarding Thomas’s father (“Poem Analysis”). The work is narrated by Dylan Thomas and exhibits four different types of individuals and how they deal with the idea of impending death.
After the obvious structural aspects of the poem have been studied, one can indulge in a more thorough examination. Both authors discuss the coming death and the life that preceded it. A.E. Housman focused mainly on the idea that life without one’s glory is near pointless. In his poem “To an Athlete Dying Young”, he writes “Smart lad, to slip betimes away/ From fields where glory does not stay,” (9-10). In this case, the athlete benefited from death because it protected him from the disappointment of watching his glory fade. One theme a reader can observe when reading this poem is to “quit while you’re ahead” – it is better to die young than to watch glory vanish. The whole notion to die young and victorious shows how Housman views life. He thinks that there can be nothing after one achieves greatness. One can assume he believes that once an athlete has reached the top, there is nowhere left to go but down, at which point death is the “smart” choice. Life should be judged on the quality of years lived rather than quantity of years lived.
Dylan Thomas, however, can strongly object to the main themes of Housman. In his poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, the phrase “Rage, rage against the dying of light” is repeated at the end of more than half of the stanzas, encouraging one to live until the very end. The assumption might be made that the expressions “dying of light” and “good night” are metaphors for death; however, one can also assume that these phrases could mean more of the process of death rather than death itself (“Poem Analysis”). According to the poem, the process of death, which can just be named old age, should not be a time to admit defeat and give in. Thomas alludes to the fact that some of the best years can began during the “dying of light”. This is displayed best in the first stanza when Thomas states, “Old age should burn and rage at close of day;” (“Do Not Go Gentle” 2). Another quote comes from the fifth stanza and reads: “Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight/ Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,” (13-14). The men spoken of in these lines have decided to fight on, perhaps because they have realized that there is still much left to do (“Poem Analysis”). In all, Dylan Thomas suggests that men need to recognize life’s potential, even after the night has begun to descend. Life should be lived to its absolute fullest.
Given that A.E. Housman and Dylan Thomas both have conflicting views on life itself, one can safely agree that they also have conflicting views on what defines a person’s life. Housman makes it very clear in his poem that life is nothing after one’s glory is lost. In the lines “And hold to the low lintel up/ The still-defended challenge-cup,” Housman says that glory should be taken to the grave (“To an Athlete Dying” 22-23). This quote states that death of the athlete should come before death of their record. This indicates he might believe that once reached, magnificence is a person’s only defining quality.
While Housman’s opinion of what defines people’s life is superficial, Thomas encourages one to never stop making the best of their own life. His constant repetition of “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” strongly suggests that he believes old age can be a crucial part of one’s existence (“Literary Analysis”). In the lines “Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight/ And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,” Thomas reveals how he feels about old age (“Do Not Go Gentle” 10-11). The topic of this stanza is that one’s youth shouldn’t define one’s life, and people should recognize the fact before it is too late (“Literary Analysis”). Once again, Dylan Thomas alludes to a belief that a life should be lived to the very end, without letting a single moment go to waste.
Just as one can say, “life is what you make of it”, the same can be said for death. Perspective on the inevitable can greatly change how life is lived. In other words, night can define a person just as much as day. Through the medium of literary art, both writers guide their readers to a more in-depth evaluation of the only constant in life. While analyzing A.E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young” and Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, one can uncover significant differences in how the two authors perceive death and the life preceding it. Death cannot be avoided, but perspective can ease its arrival.
To An Athlete Dying Young By A. E. Housman As An Everlasting Classic
One of the most impactful elegies written is, “To an Athlete Dying Young” by A. E. Housman. This poem forces the reader to think about their own life and if it were to slip away in an untimely manner. When reading this poem, it is hard to not have the fleeting thoughts about all the plans you have still and what you have not yet accomplished. There is nothing more tragic than the loss of a young life. Housman elegantly implements many literary elements into his poem to play on many people’s biggest fear, death. The poem’s versatility makes it a classic that can last throughout time. The author can have the setting at a young man’s funeral, but the tone does not stay universally sad and lamenting during the whole poem.
The young man died at the height of his athletic career having won the town race and becoming a champion. For this he is looked at as a bit lucky, he did not live to see his name outran. He never had to see his record broken, because the boy died before the name had a chance. “Smart lad, to slip betimes away” the speaker says, even his friend knows that his glory cannot fade if he is not there to put out the light. People will always remember his as the champion he was, even if that’s not what he was destined to be had he lived. It is similar to when an artist dies their artwork will sometimes be worth a lot more since they are not there to make anymore work and their work can never get worse. With death can come immortalization, you can do no wrong. With the Housman’s adaptability is impeccable, he does not let the depressing nature of the poem keep it all down.
The poem is also a strong celebration of life and the feats the young man achieved as a runner in the few years he had. “And early through the laurel grows/ It withers quicker than the rose”. The laurel wreath is what was given to the Olympic champion athletes in Ancient Greece. The author is using this simile to compare the life of the laurel to the rose. If the lifespan of the laurel plant is short, it goes to show how short and not as important the feats of a champion are if they are the only one left to remember it. Luckily for the boy his laurel wreath might as well be cast in concrete above his headstone because it is not going anywhere anytime soon. The cheering of men and boy shall not fade for the runner as it will always be in the distance. This allows the young man to still have his innocence even in death. This elegy is brought to life by the use of bountiful figures of speech, I believe this is why this poem is truly so touching. The way the town and the townsman come alive when read aloud in a class setting is astounding. “Eyes the shady night has shut” and “After Earth has stopped the ears” are both cases in which Housman uses personification in the death and funeral of the young boy. The night is shutting his eyes like he is going to sleep for eternity. It almost makes it easier to blame it on the night and the Earth. Instead of outright stating the ugly facts there are many instances where the author opts to use a beautiful metaphor to get his point across. “Today, the road of all runners come”. This is referring to the road that ultimately ends at the graveyard, not the finish line anyone was expecting for such a young man. “Townsman of a stiller town”. The boy is no longer a member of his old community instead he is a part of the cemetery once they put him below his threshold.
My first experience with this poem was in American Literature my junior year of high school and my teacher explained that each line has eight syllables which when read aloud is like the pace of a runner. I have never been able to unhear the runner running when reading this poem. The pattern is AABB and allows for countless alliteration which is extremely pleasing to the eyes and ears. It is interesting that Housman gave us such a solid form to work with, especially when the main theme is Death and all his uncertainties. I do feel like this was done on purpose and we are meant to pick up on it although it is very subtle.
“To an Athlete Dying Young” is a classic that will last throughout more lifetimes, unlike its main character the young runner who died way before his time. This elegy taps into our fears of death and loss of accomplishment all while remaining positive about the feats of young life. After reading this poem it makes you want to live your life just a little bit better, a little more meaningful, even if only for a while. The relevancy will continue to flourish as we continue to lose young athletes and prominent stars, especially with the rising suicide rates. Just a few weeks ago Edwin Jackson from the Indianapolis Colts died after being stuck by a car while parked on the side of the road, he was only twenty-six years old. He is the main reason I chose to write about this poem, as I had just witnessed another athlete dying young.
Study of A.E Houseman’s And Robert Hamblin’s Poem in Relation To the December 13, 1977 Plane Accident
Young Athlete’s Death AP Essay
Poems often enchant readers with diction and tone because the literary organization further conveys the poet’s purpose. A.E. Houseman’s “To An Athlete Dying Young” glorifies premature death of young athletes while Robert Hamblin’s “On the Death of the Evansville University Basketball Team in a Plane Crash, December 13, 1977” condemns the untimely demise. Through contrasting language, organization, and tone, Houseman and Hamblin’s Poem’s offer two conflicting viewpoints on young athlete’s death.
Houseman and Hamblin utilize two opposing forms of diction that further portray their purposes. On one hand, Houseman’s poem strictly follows traditional organizational rules. Each stanza possesses four sentences with a distinct rhyme scheme. On the other hand, Hamblin’s poem roams free without any boundaries. Lacking a presence of a rhyme scheme, his poem remains extremely unorganized. Each poet specifically adopted their respective diction because it broadcasts their opinions on premature death of young athletes. Championing death of adolescents during athletics, Houseman’s poem depicts conformity and acceptance through his organizational diction, thus associating childhood death with the mainstream status quo. Yet, Hamblin takes another stance, criticizing a young athlete’s sacrifice for athletics, through his unorganized poem because the chaos in his writing depicts his rebellious angst with this fatal issue.
Houseman’s triumphant tone and Hamblin’s appalled tone further establish their purpose because their tones depict their mood towards the issue and influenced the reader’s views on the matter. Throughout Houseman’s poem, he evokes a sense of approval and pride in the lives of these late athletes by depicting a sense of accomplishment. When Houseman describes “ the still defended challenge-cup,” he utilizes a victorious tone because he glorifies the achievement of successful athletics, thus valuing triumph over life. Hamblin, however, constructs a bitter scene that denounces the athletic atmosphere: “So scream all-knowing coaches, admonishing priest, scream. Swear, chew asses, make us work…” The poem illustrates the disgusting presence of athletic coaches to emphasize the side effects of an athletic life. In other words, he employs a dismayed tone by suggesting that all the suffering of athletics, including death, fails to provide adequate rewards. Each poem’s tone accomplishes the purpose of their respective authors because it provides a deeper sense of emotion that enhances their argument for or against premature death.
Through diction and tone, each author develops a stronger platform to bolster their stance on premature death of young athletes. Although the basic plot of the poem addresses their belief, it fails to capture the true essence of the author’s meaning. The diction and tone helps provide a deeper level that truly encapsulates the author’s purpose.
The Fame Of Death In A. E. Housman’s To An Athlete Dying Young
Fame is not a new concept. Due to the ever-present social media, reality TV shows, and the general public’s ability to reach out and touch the 1% through Instagram and Twitter, the world now a day runs on fame. Sadly, fame has also seeped into politics. Often times, today’s elections tend to be decided less on the issues and more on which candidate is more popular. Additionally, many seek fame and believe that it is only a good thing; however, fame is quickly fleeting. Critics come in and set up camp and wait until famous people slip, or they wait for the next One-Hit Wonder to hit the charts. Logan Paul and his video about Japan’s suicide forest was a huge slip up. His fame was not only gone, but he then became infamous. A. E. Housman’s poem, “To an Athlete Dying Young” addresses fame. The poem’s speaker claims that possibly it is better to die young in order to be remembered forever at the height of fame. The speaker delivers a perhaps controversial stance in the form of metaphor, imagery, and symbolism.
The poem’s speaker begins recounting a time when an athlete won a race and was brought back into town and chaired through the market-place shoulder high. This could represent a sort of crowd- surfing perhaps, with the athlete maybe perched on someone’s shoulders and the town gathering to cheer him home. In the next stanza the speaker snaps back to the present and says that in the present, they carry the athlete shoulder high and “set him at his threshold down, townsman of a stiller town.” This is indicative of death, with pallbearers holding the casket, carrying him through town shoulder high, and finally setting him down in at the threshold of his new home: a cemetery. The metaphorical victory that the speaker projects by juxtaposing two different events in the athlete’s life shows that as he first won a race, he also won his fame. As he is carried home a second time, he preserves his fame, sealing it forever in the ground. The speaker does not think that getting in the limelight is the lucky part. He thinks instead that staying in the limelight is where the luck is. By dying famous, one does not have time to lose his fame to age or to other people slandering his name. The speaker represents this through this metaphorical parade through the town on the athlete’s way to his grave.
The image of fame is important as well, and the speaker does an excellent job of pointing out what fame looks like, and how to preserve it. The speaker gives an image of a winner in the third stanza: “And early though the laurel grows, it withers quicker than the rose”. The laurel if donned early will not last long. The fame will be forgotten. Just as a rose ages and withers, so does the athlete, with his body and mind, and along with that, his accomplishments. However, another solution is provided in the final stanza: “And round that early-laurelled head will flock to gaze the strengthless dead, and find unwithered on its curls the garland briefer than a girl’s”. The image of an athlete with a laurel wreath as a crown that never will wither like a young girl’s flower tiara shows readers the longevity of fame as preserved through death. Just like fame, death is revealed as well. In the fourth stanza the speaker uses alliteration to create a picture, “and silence sounds no worse than cheers after earth has stopped the ears”. The image of dirt filling a grave is very present in this line and argues again that an early death is better than a prolonged life where one can get old and decrepit and lose his fame. The imagery, in tandem with both metaphor as well as symbolism, shows the keeping of fame due to death may not be particularly sad.
Symbols help tie everything together. A metaphor in the sixth stanza is used well, but the symbolism in the metaphor hits it home. “The fleet foot on the sill of shade”, shows the athlete stepping foot through the metaphorical doorway or window sill of death. Imagery and metaphor are present in this line, but the symbols help drive the meaning home. A sill of shade is similar to the base of a doorframe or windowframe. The athlete, by putting his fleeting foot on the base of the threshold is deciding to move forward. To open, and go through a door or the window. This is very symbolic, as one must step over the threshold of a door in order to pass through to the other side. Often times, life and opportunities are represented as series of doors. It is heard all the time, “Don’t close any doors just yet; just look at the options.” But by setting foot through the door and crossing the sill, the threshold, that is a decision that has been made to pass through and move forward.