To an Athlete Dying Young

by A. E. Housman

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Discussion Topic

Significance and key features of the poem "To An Athlete Dying Young."


"To An Athlete Dying Young" by A.E. Housman is significant for its exploration of the fleeting nature of fame and the inevitability of death. Key features include its elegiac tone, use of imagery to contrast life and death, and the theme of the preservation of glory in youth. The poem suggests that dying young allows the athlete to avoid the decline and obscurity that often accompanies aging.

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What are some important features in the poem "To An Athlete Dying Young"?

The most central feature of "To an Athlete Dying Young" is the premise of the poem.  The poem suggests that a successful athlete is better off dying young, because the best of life is behind him.  The athlete dying young is the lucky athlete. 

Irony is used here to treat society's hero worship of athletes.  A sad poignancy results from the exposure of a young person's dismal future following an adolescence of local fame.  The poem exposes the irony of a society that places so much emphasis on something of so little value, and a society in which so many live vicariously through so few. 

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What are some important features in the poem "To An Athlete Dying Young"?

Although I generally do not like sad poems, this has always been one of my favorites. I don't know exactly what you mean by "features" but here are some literary elements in the poem.

In the first line, you see a couple examples of alliteration -- you have both words beginning with "t" and those beginning with "y."  Later on, you have "townsmen of a stiller town," with lots of "t" sounds again.

You have personification, as in the place where the night shuts the athlete's eyes and where glory does not stay on fields -- both night and glory are inanimate but are given living characteristics.

Finally, you have synecdoche where a part of a thing is used as a metaphor for the whole -- the foot is on the sill of shade, being used as a metaphor for the whole body.

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What is the significance of the poem "To an Athlete Dying Young"?

The basic idea of this famous poem is that it is better to die young, in your full strength and with all your abilities, rather than to grow old and gradually fade away before dying. The poem is addressed to an athlete who has died young, who is therefore, according to the speaker, a "smart lad" to leave earth, where glory fades very quickly. Note what the speaker says about why he is better off dead at this point in his life:

Now you will not swell the rout

Of lads that wore their honours out,

Runners whom renown outran

And the name died before the man.

To the speaker, there is no worse fate than to lose your fame and to have your "name" die before you. It is far better to die in the full flourish of your fame, so that you will be remembered forever, than to live a long life but gradually be forgotten until nobody will even remember your name. Fame is described as a "garland briefer than a girls," which explores the transitory nature of fame and being a person of renown. The poem insists that death is worth it if that death allows a kind of immortality.

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