Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


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.

Credit


This poem is in the public domain.

About this Poem


This poem first appeared in Housman's self-published collection A Shropshire Lad. The book didn't become popular until the second Boer War, when Housman's depictions of early death and the poems' nostalgia for country life struck a chord with his English audience.

Author


A. E. Housman

Alfred Edward Housman was born in Fockbury, Worcestershire, England, on March 26, 1859. He published two volumes of poetry during his life, including A Shropshire Lad (1896), which was widely read during World War I.

Date Published: 1896-01-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/athlete-dying-young