To an Athlete Dying Young

By admin ~ May 30th, 2012 @ 8:10 pm

In the poem “To an Athlete Dying young”, Housman recalls a time when a young athlete won the race which brought honour to the town. For his victory he was given a hero’s reception by being carried in a chair throughout the market place. He was brought home held shoulder-high while people young and old cheered him along the route.

Today the young athlete is again being carried shoulder-high with full honours, but this time to the grave, his ultimate home. His young life has been cut short by death. Today he is a citizen of the land of death.

The poet compliments the young athlete for making a quick exit from life where any glory won cannot be retained for long. Indeed, the glory achieved is more short-lived than youth itself. The young athlete deserves compliments because by dying in good time he has escaped the possible unhappiness of witnessing his athletic record bettered by some other athlete in the future. And there is the further advantage that after death when he cannot hear, silence to him would be no worse than cheers.

The young athlete is indeed lucky that by dying now, he would not have to join the company of runners who had won and subsequently lost their honour, and lived thereafter to see it all. Mercifully for him, he would not have to witness the depressing spectacle of others stripping him of the honours and forcing him to live a life fallen from grace.

Therefore, says the poet, let us, before the ringing praise of the young athlete fades away place his body on the grave and once more proudly hold up the challenge cup which he won and is his still.

The young athlete has died in the midst of his glory. The spirits of other dead athletes will all assemble here to cast their admiring gaze on him who has died covering himself with glory before it could be wrested from him.
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