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Poetry Analysis Notes


To an Athlete Dying Young
by A.E. Housman
interpreted by Gailey Walters

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than a rose.

Eye the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
And earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honors out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenged-cup

And round that early-laureled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

Poet: A.E. Housman- A.E. Housman was born in Fockbury, Worcestershire, and Educated at Oxford University. Although after failing his exams he was thrown out of the college to become a clerk at a patent office in London. During this time at the patent office he developed his writing skills by creating many publications on other writers famous at his time. A while later, he became a Latin professor at the University College of London, then a Latin Professor at the University of Cambridge. Housman was one of the greatest scholars of his time, publishing many journals, and combined Latin poetry of Juvenal, Lucan, and Manilius.

Vocabulary: Laurel - a tree or plant that was made into a wreath to crown the
winners of contests in Ancient Greece
Swell - to expand above the normal level in ones surroundings
Fleet - to pass away swiftly, to disappear
Sill - a heavy horizontal timber or line of masonry, supporting a
house wall
Lintel - The horizontal crosspiece above a door that holds the
structure above it

Type of poem:
Narrative poem

Speaker: A good friend of a young boy who has died at war (this boy was once the athletic superstar of his town).

The young boy who has died at war.

Tone: There is a very mourning tone. This young boy's friend is recalling the days of their youth, and how things were when they were young. Only, to then go on describing how their youth has been stolen away by the war.

The meaning of the poem is that though a person is dead, they or their legend are still living on (if only in memory). When it is obvious the athlete has died, "Eyes the shady night has shut," (To an Athlete Dying Young, Housman) the author continues to describe the athlete living out a victory. This is symbolizing that somewhere out there the athlete is still living on.

Structure of poem: - Traditional Verse
- Each stanza is 4 lyrics long
- There is a flowing rhythm
- There is a rhyme scheme of: aabb, ccdd
- There is an end-rhyme scheme pattern.

Examples of poetic techniques used in the poem:

"And early though the laurel grows," Historical allusion
"And the name died before the man."
End- Stopped line
" The fleet foot on the sill of shade,"
Figurative language
"Eyes the shady night has shut,"
aabb, ccdd
Rhyme Scheme
"The fleet foot on the still of shade,"

Connection between the poem and the poet's life and/or times: Housman wrote this poem during World War I when many young boys were leaving home to fight in the war. When leaving their hometown in the English countryside to become soldiers, it was like leaving their youth at home. As well in the poem, a young boy has put his youth aside to give his life away in the war. The poem relates to Housman's times by expressing the sorrow and missed opportunity of many young men becoming soldiers.

Most memorable quote from the poem:
"And home we brought you shoulder high."

© Smelli Notes 2001