Study Guide

To an Athlete Dying Young Death

By A.E. Housman

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Shmoop hopes this theme doesn't come as a surprise. If it does, you might want to work on your close-reading skills. Housman's "To an Athlete Dying Young" has death right there in the title. And since most of the poem takes place at a funeral, you know death is going to pop its ugly, skeletonized head up more than a few times in this one. On the bright side, the way A.E. describes death makes it sound more like a new destination (a new home, moving to a new town) than a dark abyss.

Questions About Death

  1. Is Housman's portrayal of the athlete's death different than you expected it would be? When you first read the title, what kind of poem did you think would follow? How did the poem meet your expectations and how was it surprising?
  2. Housman uses a metaphor comparing life to a race we all ultimately lose: "Today, the road all runners come." Try to come up with some other metaphors for death (bonus points for sports-related metaphors). 
  3. Is the fact that the athlete is young important for the poem? Why or why not? How would the poem be different if the athlete was old?

Chew on This

Happy-go-lucky? Housman tries to look on the bright side of the young athlete's death, not because he actually believes there is a bright side; it's just too painful not to at least pretend there is.

Was Housman an amateur carpenter or homebuilder? Nope. All the door and window imagery in the poem is instead an attempt to soften the blow of the young athlete's death—describing it as a passing through rather than a passing away.

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