Discuss the poetry techniques in "To an Athlete Dying Young," and relate the poem to The Great Gatsby. Discuss the poetry techniques in "To an Athlete Dying Young," and relate the poem to The...

Discuss the poetry techniques in "To an Athlete Dying Young," and relate the poem to The Great Gatsby. 

Discuss the poetry techniques in "To an Athlete Dying Young," and relate the poem to The Great Gatsby.

 

Asked on by anuczka

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

While I agree with the assessment given in the above post, it sure seems to me these two characters are more different than alike. This young athlete in Housman's poem has achieved greatness by winning a race for the town.  He demonstrated a skill in running which brought honor both to him and his town.  Gatsby, on the other hand, has demonstrated a skill only in making money--and that, illegally.  He earned no fame for either himself or his family.  In fact, he's embarrassed of his family, we find out later.  While the young athlete has an entire town rejoicing with him in his victory, Gatsby lives a life of virtual isolation--even in the midst of his well attended parties--with no one to celebrate his victory.  Not even the only person he wants to share it with.  The aspect of illusory (fleeting) fame is the only real connector I see beyond the obvious both dying before their time. 

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Housman's poem is an elegy, somber and poignant. It consists of seven quatrains (four-line stanzas). Each stanza is composed of two rhyming couplets; with the exception of "come/home" in the second stanza, the rhymes are all perfect. The meter is iambic tetrameter. 

Numerous poetry techniques are evident, primarily alliteration and metaphor. The alliterative vowels add a smooth, flowing rhythm to the poem, while the metaphors develop theme. Examples of alliteration such as "silence/sounds," "So/set," "fleet/foot," and "sill/shade" help create a soft tone. The poem's metaphors reference death, "the shady night" that has closed the athlete's eyes forever. He is brought "home" (to his grave), and he (in his coffin now rather than his victory chair) is placed at his "threshold," the edge of his grave. He has become a "Townsman of a stiller town" as he is buried in a cemetery.

Clear thematic parallels can be drawn between Housman's athlete and Gatsby. Both die young after achieving stunning individual success. Neither will grow old to outlive his accomplishments. The athlete will never see his glory fade because he has slipped away "[f]rom fields where glory does not stay." Similarly, Jay Gatsby will never lose his great fortune. More importantly, however, because Gatsby died with his dream of Daisy intact, he will never experience the loss of his sustaining romantic illusion. Housman's athlete and Fitzgerald's Gatsby both perish while at the top of their separate "games." Their physical deaths occur before the cruel realities of life can damage their spirits.

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