Analysis of to an Athlete Dying Young

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Analysis of to an Athlete Dying Young

By | December 2010
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Analysis of “To an Athlete Dying Young”
In his poem “To an Athlete Dying Young”, A.E. Housman makes a quite different approach on death. People have different perspectives on death, but more often than not, it is viewed as an undesirable event that people wish to avoid. The speaker in the poem, however, praises a young and famous athlete for dying before he became old and forgotten. This can be interpreted two very different ways. One can assume Housman believes that the only way for athletes to capture the glory is to die when at the peak of their careers. One might criticize him for having such a pessimistic view of life, but we must realize that we are among many people who give those athletes the feeling of disgrace as they are no longer praised for being people’s heroes. On the other hand, the poem can simply be considered as elegy which mourns the premature death while also praising the youth lived to the fullest. Regardless of the interpretation, “To an Athlete Dying Young” is definitely a thought-provoking poem that allows the readers to think about the meaning of life and death. Housman achieves this by using form and rhyme scheme, sound, and figurative languages such as metaphors and similes.

The poem has seven stanzas and each stanza consists of two pairs of end-rhyming lines. This form is known as a couplet, an alternating rhyme scheme ABAB. For example, “race” and “place” rhyme in first two lines and “by” and “high” rhyme in last two lines of the first stanza. The couplet theme used throughout the poem adds rhythm as well as a sense of repetition, which not only keeps the poem interesting to read, but also reinforces the idea of death. Many of these lines are in iambic tetrameter, meaning they have four feet each consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. In lines 13 and 14, however, Housman uses trochaic tetrameter in order to mark the turnover from the mourning of the deceased to the celebration of his forever...
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