Death and fame, what do they have in common? For starters, they have both been in existence since the beginning of mankind. Death and fame are illuminated in the poem To an Athlete Dying Young. The critical approach that embeds this poem the most is historical criticism because young soldiers with their whole future ahead of them were taken to fight in the war. Sadly, many of them came back in caskets. Many of those who did return alive were permanently disabled. The literacy devices related to the critical approach are rhythm, rhyme, figures of speech, and imagery. Its universal appeal is that everyone can identify with the feelings of loss and acknowledgment of a life cut short.
Written in 1896 by A.E. Housman, To an Athlete Dying Young is a poem which depicts a young mans fall from his prime to a premature passing. Already well regarded in England shortly after its release, the poem later regained relevancy during World War I due to its correlation with early casualty amongst young males. At the conclusion of World War I, deaths totaled roughly three hundred thousand (PBS) a disproportionate amount of which were under the age of 21. When all of this is considered, it is easy to understand why a shadowy yet inspiring poem such as To an Athlete Dying Young has developed into a masterpiece over time. .
The poem uses many different literacy devices. Rhyme and rhythm are the two most easily recognizable devices. This poem has seven stanzas, each containing a pair of rhymes at the end of every second line. It is an effective tool that lightens the tone of the text. The time you won your town the race/ We chaired you through the marketplace (Housman line 1-2). Aside from the rhyme scheme, nearly all of the lines are formed into eight-syllable phrases with emphasis placed on every other syllable. This style of rhythm is considered an iambic tetrameter. Put together, the rhythm and rhyme arrangement is what gives To an Athlete Dying Young its distinctive flow and stream, allowing it to be read with a smooth pace that is quite remarkable for a poem with an insightful underlying message.