Resources for Loss

"To An Athlete Dying Young" by A.E. Housman, contributed by Kathleen Coleman (Course Head, 2021)

A. E. Housman (1859–1936) was a distinguished Latin scholar who occupied the Kennedy Chair of Latin at the University of Cambridge from 1911 until his death. He is best known as the author of the cycle, A Shropshire Lad, from which this poem is taken. In “To an Athlete Dying Young,” the pathos of premature death is offset by the consolatory motif that the perfection of youth remains unscarred by the passage of time. Although Housman himself did not acknowledge an overt debt to the Roman poets, the elegiac tone in this poem is strongly reminiscent of the odes of Horace (65–8 BCE), in which wisdom and nostalgia are expressed in a poetic form marked by perfect control of both meter and diction. Housman’s poem bears some affinity to the poem by George Bilgere, “At the Vietnam Memorial,” which we read in class, although where Housman dwells on the pathos of athletic prowess cut short by death, Bilgere emphasizes the tragedy of such promise wasted in war.

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