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A. E. Housman was a poet who felt keenly the disappointments of life. Reflecting his sense of the contradictions of life, his poem "To an Athlete Dying Young" presents the paradoxical situation of an athlete's death being treated with praise. For, the athlete, who was once carried on the shoulders of men as the hero of a race is now lauded as "Smart lad" for having won the race of life by dying young. Having defeated time by dying young, the athlete has died "before its echoes fade" while his name yet brings cheers. The "chair" that he is carried in is his coffin. Once buried, he will be remembered as young and vital and a champion in contrast to those who live longer lives and are defeated by time's aging and the ephemeral condition of fame.
That Housman's poem contains a truth has evidence in history. In America such people as Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elvis Presley, John F. Kennedy and the like have become iconic legends because they possessed the "wisdom" to "slip betimes away/ From fields where glory does not stay."
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