To An Athlete Dying Young
When time passes, things are forgotten. People who have achieved great things eventually drift away. But what if soon after their peak of glory they die. Would the memory of them and their glory live on longer? In the lryic poem "To an Athlete Dying Young" by A.E. Houseman the narrator shows how dying young and at the peak of your glory is better then living to be forgotten. The setting of the poem is in a town and cemetery in nineteenth-century England during the funeral and burial of a young athlete, a runner. The first stanza explains the victory of a boy winning a race in his town. Neighbors and admires of the athlete were so happy for him they carry him on their shoulders all the way home after the race. The theme of Housman’s poem is that glory is fleeting. The only way a person can capture it and make it last is to die young after achieving greatness. In this way, the person can live forever in the minds of people who remember him at the peak of his powers. Although Housman does not wish his readers to take this message literally, the cynicism in the poem suggests that life in later years is humdrum and wearisome. Consequently, he praises the young athlete for dying before his glory fades: “Smart lad, to slip betimes away / From fields where glory does not stay,” For example, in the last century, the early deaths of Amelia Earhart, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and singer Elvis Presley all seem to testify Housman’s thesis. By taking away their lives when they were still relatively young, death gave them eternal life in the minds of their admirers. Housman’s cynical view of life may have a certain appeal for young people unplugged with their life. These are the youths who sometimes act on their “death wishes” by taking dangerous risks in fast cars, by experimenting with drugs, or by committing acts of violence that end in suicide. Housman himself was troubled as a youth as a result of...
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