A.E.Housman’s poem “To an Athlete Dying Young” was first publishedin the collection of A Shropshire Lad in 1986. This poem reflectsupon an athlete who is brought home to be buried, as he dies at hismoment of victory. The author muses that the young athlete was luckyby dying during the peak of his glory. Literally, the young athletewon a race that brought to him glory in his town. Figuratively, theyoung athlete is now travelling another road, which every person willhave to travel eventually, which is to the grave. This poem isthought provoking as it allows readers to reflect on the differentmeaning of life, as well as, death. Housman achieves this through byusing various literary devices that include personification, irony,apostrophe, alliteration, synecdoche, allusion, and metaphors amongothers.
Thepoem has seven melancholic stanzas, or stanzas of four lines each.The stanza form is a quatrain with two rhyming couplets with therhyming scheme of ‘aabb’. For instance, in the first stanza therhyming words are ‘place’ and ‘race’ in the first and secondlines, as well as, ‘by’ and ‘high’ in third and fourth line.The lines are combined in couplets and the couplets repeated in sevenfour-line stanzas, or quatrains. Furthermore, the seven quatrains arewritten in rhymed iambic tetrameter. In iambic verse, the firstsyllable of the line is omitted. For instance, in the third line ofthe first stanza, the first syllable is dropped and unstressed. Inaddition, Housman uses the couplets to express a recurring themeadded by the rhythm, and a form of repetition, which reinforces hisideas, and especially the main idea, death.
Themain poetic devices used throughout Housman’s poem includeapostrophe and alliteration. The author uses apostrophe by addressingsomeone who is not there to respond. The poem is a short elegy,written upon the death of a young and celebrated athlete, who is notthere to respond to the author. Alliteration is also evident as thesame sound appears in the poem, is in close proximity to one another.For instance, ‘you’ and ‘your’ and ‘time’ and ‘town’are words with the same sound in the poem. The author also usesconsonance, which is similar to alliteration, but the sound is withinthe words instead of in the beginning. In addition, Housman sprinklesvarious poetic devices throughout the poem including irony in thefirst two stanzas, allusion to Greek classics in the third stanza, aswell as, personification in the fourth stanza and the fifth, wherebyhe gives human attributes to the night and the earth. The sixthstanza has an example of synecdoche, a poetic device where a part isused to represent the whole.
Inconclusion, the poem touches the hearts of readers with its rhyme toa great runner’s fleeting glory. The poem focuses on what happensto athletes, or people, after their moment of glory. In this case,Housman challenges readers to reflect on mortality, develop a senseof time, acceptance of pain, happiness, and appreciation ofrelationships (Sheehan, 191). Sheehan concludes that the athlete hasfound a way of living his absolute limits and for this reason he hasreconciled himself to his own mortality. The poem also emphasizes onlife and mortality, as it conveys the fact life is short and man iscorruptible, and that physical gifts or fame cannot defy thepossibility of the grave.
Sheehan, George. Running & Being: The Total Experience.New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013. Print.