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A. E. Housman

Malt, or brew, is one key element of A. E. Housman’s poems, perhaps the element that allows his creativity to fully express itself in poems where he is preoccupied with themes of mortality and fleeting youth. Housman was born in 1859 and died in 1936, well aware of the ravages of war visited upon humanity in World War I. One of Housman’s earliest disappointments occurred during his education at the University of Oxford “Although a brilliant student, he failed his examinations, shocking his professors and contemporaries” (Encarta 1). Nonetheless, on the strength of articles published in journals, Housman became professor of Latin at University College in London. In two particular poems we can see the ironic pessimism that is a hallmark of Housman’s style, a quality that is apparent in the quote above. One of these is To An Athlete Dying Young, which encompasses the theme of mortality and interrupted youth. The other is When I Was One-And-Twenty, a poem concerned with thoughts of fleeting youth.

The young athlete in To An Athlete Dying Young once was carried “shoulder-high” through a town of people “cheering by” (Housman 1). However, at present he is being carried through the town dead, presumably a casualty of war. Once he was a victorious athlete spurred on by a cheering town, but now he is the “Townsman of a stiller town” (Perrine 284). Yet, while the poem is sad in tone, the speaker talks to the athlete as if he were still alive. Using the ironic pessimism that pervades many of his poems, Housman has the speaker inform the athlete he is almost more fortunate to be dead because he will not have to know the experience of becoming a has-been, an older athlete who is outrun in honors and physical ability “Now you will not swell the rout / Of lads that wore their honors out, / Runners whom renown outran / And the name died befo


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A. E. Housman. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 14:39, March 18, 2019, from