To an Athlete Dying Young

by A. E. Housman
Start Free Trial

How does word choice make the poem "To an Athlete Dying Young" effective?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The word choice in "To an Athlete Dying Young" creates a poignant tone that shows the pain of a brilliant young life cut short.

In the beginning, the word choice focuses on the celebration of the living. He "won" his event for the town. The were so proud...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The word choice in "To an Athlete Dying Young" creates a poignant tone that shows the pain of a brilliant young life cut short.

In the beginning, the word choice focuses on the celebration of the living. He "won" his event for the town. The were so proud that they carried him "shoulder high" as they "cheered" for their local, young hero. This was a life of hope and promise, and it seems that this young athlete brought people together through his victories.

There is then a sharp turn in tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker uses darker words to describe the "stiller town" that is left behind when they bring their young hero home for the final time. With nothing left to celebrate, only "silence" remains. The speaker uses a withering rose to show the fleeing nature of great beauty, again reinforcing this poignant life. The athlete's eyes have been closed by the metaphorical night of death, and he will thus never have to see his record broken. He will also never have to live like those "lads that wore their honours out," or stood by helplessly and watched their glories turn to forgotten memories.

The word choice after that first stanza is somber, with phrases like "echoes fade" and "the name died," contributing to the poignant tone. It's not just a hero who has died, and it's not just a young person, either—both of which are tragic occurrences. The real poignancy is the combination of the two, which creates an almost unbearable loss for the town, and the word choice helps to convey this sense of sorrow.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team