What elements of modernism are featured in to "An Athlete Dying Young?"

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Modernism that is evident in the poem can be found in the idea of contingency that underscores so much of what Housman is saying.  The fleeting glory of the athlete represents the passing of mortality.  This is Modernist in scope because it embodies the "shift" on which writers like Woolf were fixated.  When Woolf speaks of the idea that all human relations "shifted" in the Modernist period, this becomes evident in the poem.  The athlete and his achievements are contingent.  They are not permanent.  In contrast to the vision of the athlete's heroics and exploits on the field remaining as a part of eternity, Housman's poem reflects a fleeting nature to the essence of accomplishment that is intrinsic to the athlete.  The athlete's success and the way in which they interact with the world and in the way the world interacts with them marks a "shift."  

The result of this transformation is the athlete being rendered as distant from the world in which they live.  There is a particular alienation in this construction of being.  They do not belong to something universal or something transcendent.  Rather, the contingency that Housman evokes feeds into an alienating notion of self.  In this, the athlete recognizes that "glory does not stay" and the laurel does in fact wither.  There is a lack of belonging in this definition, and in this the Modernist construction of alienation is evident in the poem.

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