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Housman’s Use Of Irony And Metaphors In To An Athlete Dying Young

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

The poem “To an Athlete Dying Young” by A.E. Housman starts off with a stanza reminiscing the celebrations of the athlete’s achievements. The reader then realizes that the poem is in reality about the burial of the young runner. The poem describes how youth is a short time in one’s life in which the achievements made during that time are remembered rather than disappear along with death. A.E Housman uses literary devices such as irony and metaphors to express his feelings for the athlete.

Housman uses metaphors to describe to the reader the burial scene in the town. In the second stanza, Housman describes the burial in the present time, “Shoulder-high we bring you home, And set you at your threshold down,…”. Rather than celebrating another victory for the athlete, the townsmen carry him on their shoulders for his burial. The first line of the stanza informs the reader that the athlete had died, “Today, the road all runners come,…”. The road that Housmann mentions is death. All people must go through this passage in life as it is the final “race” we all compete in. By calling the athlete a “Townsman of a stiller town” shows how they lay him in the presence of a cemetery, a quieter place. The athlete has moved from the town of the living to the dead. The burial shows that the athlete had a good reputation as even in death crowds still form to see him. The metaphors used by Hausmann create a somber tone in the poem. The audience sees that the athlete was respected and celebrated within his town and to see his life cut so short is discouraging.

Housman addresses the athlete’s death with an ironic tone in the eyes of the audience. The irony in the poem is how the speak seemingly praises the athlete for dying so young, “Smart lad, to slip betimes away”. In most cases, people would want to stay alive to achieve more rather than face death so soon. It is ironic for the audience that the author would speak so celebratory on the death of the athlete after creating a dismal atmosphere describing his burial. In the speaker’s case, the athlete had already achieved enough and with his death, there would be no one to break his records. The young athlete has died and left the place from “fields where glory does not stay.” He’ll never see his achievements beaten by someone better than him or see his youth fade away in his old age. In his death, his glories during his youth, “Cannot see the record cut,…”. As a result of his early death, the athlete has preserved his accomplishments and created his own legacy.

Through his use of irony and metaphors, A.E Housmann is able to convey the theme of his poem to the audience and drive meaning in his message. In his ironic tone in praising the athlete’s young death, Hausmann is able to successfully express his feelings of youth. The readers feel as though they accomplish more in their youth and as they grow old these accomplishments they make in life fade away. Housman’s use of metaphors also plays a role in driving meaning within his message. Through his metaphors, he was able to set the scene of the athlete’s burial and show the audience that people are respected and remembered after death. 

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