Alfred Edward Housman

(26 March 1859 – 30 April 1936 / Worcestershire)

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To an Athlete Dying Young


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.

To-day, 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 honours 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.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Cs Vishwanathan (12/28/2010 1:04:00 AM)

    To me the poetry of AE Housman are a glory of the English letters. His innate astringent scepticism showed a side of the English cultural countenance normally kept shrouded by the Victorians. In his poems rhyme, rhythm, emotion, statements, and stylistic precision all dovetail into each other so seamlessly that the whole poem
    is converted into an object of beauty. He is the GOYA of the English poetry. (Report) Reply

  • Michael Pruchnicki (12/28/2009 5:49:00 PM)

    Think of the slave who rode in the chariot with the conquering hero and whispered words of wisdom into his ear, 'Beware the glory that is yours now will soon vanish! ' Today you're a hero! Tomorrow you're a Zero! Like a young girl whose beauty will eventually fade as she ages, so a young athlete dying young will outlive his brief day in the sun! No arthritis will ever slow him down! No sudden cardiac arrest will terminate his career so suddenly. I think it was General George Patton who longed to be killed in battle with the last bullet fired in the last war! A noble aspiration! (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (12/28/2009 1:27:00 AM)

    A wonderful tribute to a winning athlete died young! It may be very interesting to young sportsmen of the world! (Report) Reply

  • Holt Louque (10/7/2009 10:31:00 AM)

    How could this warrior add to the afore mentioned commentaries? Yes, Out of Africa is one of the all-time greatest films. 'Under the veneer of armor of every Warrior, beats the Heart of a true Romantic.' HRL (Report) Reply

  • Susan Richardson (6/20/2006 2:57:00 PM)

    Surely the whole point is what was, not what could have been? Ultimately to have lost the challenge cup and for the laurel to have withered, as better, younger athletes usurp his position. An early death ensures this will never happen.

    Ditto the Meryl Streep ref. I too can never read this without hearing the halting Danish accent. Brilliant film, fantastic score, wonderful poetry! (Report) Reply

  • Hakan Han (12/29/2005 3:06:00 AM)

    You dont have it!
    but i dont have it too!
    a bitch does always lie,
    but one of my statements is true! (Report) Reply

  • Richard Terrify (11/24/2005 9:30:00 PM)

    There's a scene in the movie Out Of Africa where this poem, or part of it, is read at the burial of Robert Redfords character. I thought it was one of the most beautiful tributes to a figure admired, not only an athlete. Of course, I cannot read it without hearing the Danish accent Meryl Streep used in the film, but what a voice to hear in your head when recalling a favorite poem. I owe this movie a debt of gratitude for making me aware of this fine poem. (Report) Reply

  • Tom Green (12/12/2004 1:42:00 AM)

    I think this is one of the most beautiful poems I have ever read.
    It is so virile yet so soft, so bold yet so shy, so promissory yet so fatal.
    We can all relate to the golden child athelete who we really never had a full chance to appreciate and savor him because an early death. Then those who are left will only remenber and think about what could have been. (Report) Reply

Read all 10 comments »

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