I need help identifying the open or closed form of "To an Athlete Dying Young," by Housman and how the structure contributes to overall...

I need help identifying the open or closed form of "To an Athlete Dying Young," by Housman and how the structure contributes to overall effect.




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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poetic concepts of open and closed forms reflect the poet's attitude toward and use of poetic structures, which include such things as meter, rhyme scheme, rhythm, verse (line) length, stanzas and the convention of poetic devices. A closed form is a conventional poem the scansion of which will reveal meter, rhythm, and musicality and an analysis of which will reveal poetic devices such as the tropes of irony, metaphor, and personification as well such thing as alliteration and assonance. An open form is a form the considers these conventions of poetic structure as imprisoning to the poetic endeavor and poetic freedom. Open form has no predetermined rhythm, meter or verse length; they have no or perhaps few tropes and other devices (some might still retain meter or rhyme or other device).

Applying open form and closed form to a structural analysis of "To An Athlete Dying Young," shows the stanzas are regular and consistent, being seven stanzas of quatrains (four verses per stanza); each stanza has a aabb rhyme scheme (race / -place; by / high); the rhythm is in consistent iambs (^ / ; unstressed - stressed), with an occasional verse having a shortened first metrical foot as in "Man' / and^ boy' / stood^ cheer' / -ing^ by'," and "Run' / -ners^ whom' / re^ -nown' / out^ -ran' ". A shorten fist foot is called an acephalous, or headless foot, which is a category of catalexis in which one or more unstressed beats are dropped from the beginning, or ending, of a verse (line) of poetry. The meter (the number of metrical feet) throughout is four feet, which is called tetrameter. When the metric label tetrameter is combined with the rhythmic description iambic, the designation iambic tetrameter is derived for the metrical structure of the poem.

Even without proceeding to an analysis of poetic devices such as metonymy ("we chaired you") and metaphor ("townsman of a stiller town") and personification ("Eyes of the shady night"), it is clear from structural evidence alone that "To an Athlete Dying Young" is a closed form poem. One contribution the closed form makes to the overall effect is to present a dirge-like musicality by keeping a strict metrical (rhythm and meter) structure. Also the measured stanzas in quatrains add to the perception of the measured slow step of a funeral march, while the aabb rhyme structure provides a support to the dirge-like rhythmic repetition of iambs and the metrical repetition of the four-count tetrameter.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"To an Athlete Dying Young" by A.E. Housman is an elegy. that is, a funeral song (poem).  The form, then, is a reflection or extension of the meaning, for this poem is a tribute in praise of a young man who achieved a great thing early on in life but has died before he could outlive his fame.  Your question reads "forum," though I assume you mean "form."  How the poem is structured does contribute to its meaning.  Most of the lines are written in iambic tetrameter, which reads da-duh, da-duh, da-duh.  Say it out loud and it sounds like the rise and fall of a runner's feet. There are seven four-line stanzas, and each is comprised of rhyming couplets, meaning every two lines rhyme.  This, too, is rhythmical and measured and even, this time more like a funeral march.  There are plenty of other elements which could be analyzed, but your issues revolve around form and this should get you started.  I've given you a few, and it sounds like your professor has also given you some instruction.  Choose two or three elements you're comfortable with and you'll find 400-500 words goes by very quickly.  Happy writing! 

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To an Athlete Dying Young

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