E. Housman's To An Athlete Dying Young

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.E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young” pits the fleetingness of fame with the immortality of death. Written through a constant set of rhymed (couplet) quatrains, it is meant to be an elegy for an athlete who has met a premature death. However, rather than lament the passing of the young athlete, the speaker celebrates it. Rather than live and “see the record cut”, it is better to expire at a young age and hold, until the end, “the still-defended challenge-cup”, he insists (14, 24). The poem begins as a standard elegy. The first quatrain of the poem reminisces on a time when the athlete was still alive; it describes the athlete at his highest moment, “the time [he] won the town a race” and was “chaired through the marketplace” (1, 2). The…show more content…
The author makes reference to two different plants to support his opinion: the laurel and the rose. The laurel is commonly associated with victory and triumph, but yet, for all its meaning, “early though the laurel grows… it withers” (11, 12). The laurel, and by extension, everything it represents is only temporary, a fleeting glory. The rose, however, which represents not only love but a respect for the dead, lasts much longer, symbolizing the townspeople’s continuing respect for the athlete in…show more content…
It is frequently referred to as either a doorway, such as when he refers to the athlete’s entrance into the afterlife as the “sill of shade”, or a closing darkness, such as where the athlete’s eyes are closed by “the shady night” (13, 22). Either way, the speaker describes the athlete’s death as an entrance into a new place and the closing of the old. He has not passed away, but rather, passed through, becoming a “townsman of a stiller town” (8). The poem’s constant rhyme scheme and meter, iambic tetrameter, serves as a reassuring constant in an otherwise uncertain story; the athlete’s cause of death is uncertain, life itself is uncertain. This predictable form mirrors our own desire for certainty inside the

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