Study Guide

To an Athlete Dying Young Time

By A.E. Housman

Time

In "To an Athlete Dying Young," the speaker spends lots of time on, well, time. He seems very concerned about the effect of time on fame, glory, and prowess. (Shmoop worries about time, too: lunchtime, snacktime, we hate to be late.) Sure, Housman's time concerns might be a bit more attention-worthy. But if you've ever missed lunch, you know our concerns are valid as well.

Questions About Time

  1. The speaker seems to believe that time is the athlete's big enemy, that passing time leads, sooner or later, to defeat and failure.
  2. Can you think of any examples that support the speaker's theory? Can you think of any examples that don't?
  3. The athlete avoids the negative effects of time on his athletic performance and reputation by dying young. Are there some other, less severe ways people try to defend against the ravages of time? What are they? (Hint: Check out any episode of Real Housewives to see some folks battling hard, in a variety of upsetting ways, against time.)
  4. How do the poem's form and structure reflect the idea of time's power and inescapability? Feel free to check out the "Form and Meter" section if you get stuck.

Chew on This

Housman uses a strict form, meter, and rhyme scheme in "To an Athlete Dying Young" to mirror the inevitability and inescapability of passing time. The patterns and rhythms are inescapable, like the ticking of a clock marking our march toward death. Wow… what a downer.

Housman's portrayal of time in "To an Athlete Dying Young" is way less fun than Styx in "Too Much Time on My Hands" or Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," but his concern about the effects of passing time on the individual is no less relevant today than it was when Housman wrote the poem.

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