Friday, January 29, 2010

To An Athlete Dying Young, a poem by A. E. Housman.

Post 418 - Alfred Edward Housman was born in Worcestershire, England. in 1859. After graduating from St. John's College, Oxford, with first class honors, he worked as a clerk in the Patent Office in London for ten years. During this time, he studied Greek and Roman classics, and as a result, in 1892 was appointed professor of Latin at University College, London. In 1911 he became professor of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge, a post he held until his death. Housman only published two volumes of poetry during his lifetime: A Shropshire Lad in 1896, and Last Poems in 1922. A third volume, More Poems, was released posthumously by his brother, Laurence, in 1936, as was an edition of Housman's Complete Poems in 1939. Despite acclaim as a scholar and a poet in his lifetime, Housman lived as a recluse, rejecting honors and avoiding the public eye. He died in 1936 in Cambridge. He once observed, "I find Cambridge an asylum, in every sense of the word."

This poem may be familiar to many of you as it was read by Karen Blixen (played by Meryl Streep) at the burial of Denys Finch Hatton (played by Robert Redford) in the movie, Out Of Africa.

To An Athlete Dying Young by A. E. Housman.

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 the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After 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 challenge-cup.

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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ive been assigned to research the meaning of this poem by my english teacher. so far ive come across a few blogs all of which tell me pretty much the same thing. this poem is about a young athlete who dies right after theyve won the championship race. Housman is saying that this is almost a blessing because, being so young the athlete isnt aware of how cruel life can be, also seeing that hes just reached the highlight of his life so far, he doesnt have to go through the hardships of, for example, some accident that would ruin his athletic career. All in all i think that it was a well writen poem and i haatttte english so im suprised i even went throught the trouble posting this hahaha.