An elegy is defined as a somber poem or song that praises or laments the dead. In the poem To An Athlete Dying Young, Houseman "praises" the young athlete for dying at a time in his life when he is still the town's hero. Dying at a the prime of his life holds less disappointment as he will always be viewed as a hero.Smart lad, to slip betimes away From fields where glory does not stay, 10 And early though the laurel grows It withers quicker than the rose.
The "laurel" is the wreath placed upon the head of athletes in ancient Greece and is seen in this poem as the his glory. This "withers quicker than the rose" - the rose is his life. Glory fades in the living. In life records and accomplishments fade with time as new heroes emerge and new records are broken.
In the last stanza Houseman writes people will "flock to gaze" upon him. They will always remember him a hero; his glory will never fade even though his records may be broken by another.