Many people fear dying at a young age. Along with that come fears of not being able to fulfill all their dreams, not being able to live a prosperous life and take full advantage of their time on earth. It is a sad fate that is uncontrollable by any human, and to view a young and premature death in a positive light would be horrendous to many. However, Alfred Edward Housman does exactly that in his poem “To an Athlete Dying Young.” Housman implies in his poem that it is better to die in one’s prime rather than to live to a rip old age just to see all their accomplishments fade and become meaningless to everyone.
“To an Athlete Dying Young” takes place at a young champion runner’s funeral or possibly before the funeral at the memorial service. In the first stanza, the poem starts by the speaker reflecting on the time the champion runner won the town race, and he was greatly celebrated and carried home “shoulder-high.” The tone of the poem starts as one of pride and celebration in the remembrance of the great win, but the tone shifts quickly in the transition from the first stanza to the second to a more solemn and depressing tone.
In line five, “Today, the road all runners come,” (5) the speaker is painting the picture of the funeral. The whole town, which is probably small, is in grief and mourning and in attendance to the funeral. In the first stanza the whole town was there to celebrate the young athlete, but now the whole town is there to mourn him. Also, instead of “and home we brought you shoulder-high,” (4) it becomes “we bring you home, and set you at your threshold down” (7) which symbolizes the runner’s grave.
The speaker says a lot about himself in the third stanza in lines nine through twelve. The speaker is or probably was an athlete himself and knows that glory fades quickly. This is apparent in lines eleven and twelve: “And early though the laurel grows It withers quicker than a rose” (11-12).