To An Athlete Dying Young

On the many occasions that I bemoan the fact that we all have to give up our youth someday in exchange for grey hair and weary bones, I console myself with the thought that old age is preferable to its only other alternative-dying young.

On the surface there might be nothing desirable about dying young-I for one do not want to die ever- but there are situations where it may not be the absolute worst thing. For some people, it is better to die young than to live out old age in ignominy, feebleness and complete dependence on others.

Dying in one’s prime also immortalises a person’s  legacy before the person has a chance to tarnish it or before the person fades out into irrelevance and is forgotten.Many people achieve a lot and then manage to live long enough to ruin these achievements. Life is so fickle; one day you are the most celebrated sportsperson/artist in the world; the next day nobody but the IRS remembers your name. A person who has died in the middle of a standing ovation never has to worry about becoming a has-been.

Thinking of this made me remember one of the first poems I was introduced to in literature class: To An Athlete Dying Young by A.E Housman. The poem is about an athlete who died when the ovation was loudest. It is a beautiful poem and it so aptly describes what it is I am trying to say.

To an athlete dying young

The time you won your town the race

We chaired you through the marketplace

Man and boy stood cheering by,

and home we brought you shoulder high

 

Today the road all the 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 girls.

 

A. E. HOUSMAN

 

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