To an Athlete Dying Young

To an Athlete Dying Young

by A. E. Housman

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

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.

Summary of To an Athlete Dying Young

  • Popularity of “To an Athlete Dying Young”: This poem was written by A. E. Housman (Alfred Edward Housman), a classical scholar and poet. ‘To an Athlete Dying Young’ is a famous poem on account of its themes of the bitterness of the death at the height of glory. It was first published in 1896 in A Shropshire Lad. The poem deals with the early death of an athlete who once won a race and earned respect from his townsmen. Its popularity lies in highlighting the transience of life.
  • “To an Athlete Dying Young” As a Representative of Sorrow: This poem presents a young man who details short but glorious life of an athlete. First, the poet talks about his youthful accomplishments. He addresses a young athlete and reminds him of how he won the race for the people of his town. It was the time of merriment, and the townsmen celebrated his victory with excitement. Now the same people are carrying him on their shoulders and taking him to his final destination. Although his life was short, the glory and the record he set would stay there forever. For him, the athlete is not going to witness the bitterness of his downfall.
  • Major Themes in “To an Athlete Dying Young”: Death, victory and the transience of life are the major themes of this poem. The poem presents two things; the marvelous victory of the athlete and his early demise. The speaker recounts the moments of his remarkable achievement and then narrates how he died young after achieving greatness. However, his death will not make people forget the peak of his power or fame. His legacy will remain, and he will always stay in the hearts of the people.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “To an Athlete Dying Young”

Literary devices are tools that the writers use to convey emotions, ideas, and themes. With the help of these devices, they make their texts more appealing to the reader. A. E. Housman has also employed some literary devices in this poem to express his feelings for the athlete. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been given below. 

  1. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. For example, “Eyes the shady night has shut”. Here, the night is personified.
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /a/ in “Of lads that wore their honours out” and the sound of /e/ in “The still-defended challenge-cup.”
  3. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between different objects or person. For example, ‘Today, the road all runners come’. The road is the metaphor of a cemetery. The second example is, ‘Townsman of a stiller town’, stiller town represents the calmness of cemetery.
  4. Oxymoron: It is a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunctions with each other. For example, “And silence sounds no worse than cheers.” Here silence shows that it is powerful then cheering crowd.
  5. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /n/ in “Runners whom renown outran” and the sound of /r/ in “The garland briefer than a girl’s.”
  6. Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from their literal meanings. “Laurel” is the symbol of victory, “Home” is the symbol of grave and “stiller town” is the symbol of the graveyard.
  7. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought or clause that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it moves over the next line. For example,

“And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “To an Athlete Dying Young”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are seven stanzas in this poem, and all comprise of four lines.
  2. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here each stanza is quatrain.
  3. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the ABAB rhyme scheme, and this pattern continues to the end.
  4. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “fade/shade”, “up/cup” and “town/down.”

Quotes to be Used

 The lines stated below can be used to admire the children when they do something praiseworthy. These could also be used by parents to narrate the past or time victory of their children.

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.”