Housman’s Poem, To an Athlete Dying Young Essay

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This poem is a part of Housman’s most famous volume of work called A Shropshire Lad. In these works Housman wanted the reader to think about life and the meaning of it all. In one of Housman’s most celebrated poems “To an Athlete Dying Young”, Critics dissect the themes of staying on top eternally, dying when one is a champion, and not letting the fame fade. Critic Scott-Kilvert says that Housman “voices the familiar passions of humanity with a death dealing sweetness” (Scott-Kilvert 628)
This poem may be considered an elegy, or a piece of Romance literature. It has seven quatrains of rhymed iambic tetrameter, and each line containing eight syllables. The even numbered syllables are stressed, and the first, second, third, and fourth
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The athlete escaped the pain of watching himself loose his ability. The athlete now will be remembered as a champion and nothing else (John 1858).
In every stanza some new theme or idea is introduced. The first stanza or lines 1-4 seems to have an association with the Greek Olympiad. In lines 2-4 the reaction of the townspeople is established. The athlete “…was placed on an emotional and psychological pedestal...” (Ruby230). This athlete was carried “shoulder-high” through the towns place. In line 3 the men and boys are single out. This singly out could refer to the Greek obsession and love for the physical beauty of the male body (Ruby 231). Critic Bruce Meyer believes that the athlete was not only a champion in himself, but was the champion for the town or this society of people. This athlete is “a symbol of the perfection and idealism that society craves.” (Meyer 238). The townspeople adore what the athlete has done because they feel he represents their people (Meyer 238). The athlete has now died in stanza two, and moved on. The athlete is still being carried “shoulder-high” but know to his grave sight. The line “The road all runners come” implicates that all humans run the road of life, they must also journey to death (Cummings, scr.1). The “threshold” in line seven where the athletes’ body is placed may be a number of things. In this case it may be the literal meaning of the edges of the grave or it could be