Study Guide

To an Athlete Dying Young Stanza 2

By A.E. Housman

Stanza 2

Lines 5-8

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

  • Stanza 2 shifts from the speaker's recollection of the athlete's past victory to a discussion of the athlete's current situation: being dead.
  • The stanza's first word, "Today," signals this shift. On this day, the athlete is on "the road all runners come." When we take into account the poem's title, that "road" becomes a metaphor for death—the path we all take, leading to the same destination.
  • "Shoulder-high we bring you home," mirrors the image in stanza 1 of the townspeople carrying the athlete home on their shoulders after his big victory. But the image in stanza 2 turns dark because this time we're at the athlete's funeral. 
  • This time they are carrying the athlete's casket on their shoulders. Instead of carrying him to his house, they are carrying him to his final "home," his final resting place—the graveyard.
  • The athlete becomes a resident of a new, "stiller town," the town we all end up becoming residents of: dead-ville.
  • We don't know about you, but we prefer stanza 1.

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