Housman's "To An Athlete Dying Young" A. E. Housman's "To an Athlete Dying Young," also known as Lyric XIX in A Shropshire Lad, holds as its main theme the premature death of a young athlete as told from the point of view of a friend serving as pall bearer. The poem reveals the concept that those dying at the peak of their glory or youth are really quite lucky. The first few readings of "To an Athlete Dying Young" provides the reader with an understanding of Housman's view of death. Additional readings reveal Housman's attempt to convey the classical idea that youth, beauty, and glory can be preserved only in death. A line-by-line analysis helps to determine the purpose of the poem. The first stanza of the poem tells of the athlete's triumph and his glory filled parade through the town in which the crowd loves and cheers for him. As Bobby Joe Leggett defines at this point, the athlete is "carried of the shoulders of his friends after a winning race" (54). In Housman's words: 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. (Housman 967). Stanza two describes a much more somber procession. The athlete is being carried to his grave. In Leggett's opinion, "The parallels between this procession and the former triumph are carefully drawn" (54). The reader should see that Housman makes another reference to "shoulders" as an allusion to connect the first two stanzas: Today, the road all runners come, Shoulder high we bring you home, And set you at the threshold down, Townsman of a stiller town. (967) In stanza three Housman describes the laurel growing "early" yet dying "quicker than a rose." (967) This parallels "the 'smart lad' who chose to 'slip betimes away' at the height of his fame" (Explicator 188). Leggett's implication of this parallel is "that death, too is a victory" (54). He should consider himself lucky that he died in his prime and will not out live his fame. Housman says: Eyes the shady night has shut Cannot see the record cut, And silence sounds no worse than cheers After earth has stopped the ears. (967) Leggett feels that "death in the poem becomes the agent by which the process of change is halted" (54). In the next stanza symbolism is used as the physical world is in Leggett's terms, "The field where glories do not stay" (54). "Fame and beauty are represented by a rose and the laurel, which are both subject to decay," Leggett explains (54). The athlete dying is described here by Housman:
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