A. E. Housman. 1859–
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, 5
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, 10
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 15
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. 20
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 25
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.


Athletes attain their glory so early in life that it must be something akin to torture when one has to return or step for the first time into the midst of mere mortals. To be retired before the age when many of us have barely begun our career, or life work. When I was a young bachelor, my girlfriend and Wayne’s girlfriend shared a  house together. Our paths never crossed. But if they had, what would we have shared? I was a young 25ish aspiring poet and he was a superstar athlete at 18ish. His life took off like a rocket. Mine sort of mossied off like a bicycle. His girl friend was beautiful. Mime was more interesting. And that’s about all I know on this subject.

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