Summary of “To An Athlete Dying Young”

“Young death” marked by significant achievements are far better than growing ripe old and dying. A death in young age for an athlete is a victory over the ignominy, the heartbreak and tougher times that ought to be faced in old age otherwise.

The irony is that success that an athlete achieves in his youth becomes a memory that is often forgotten and denigrated by the people as the athlete gets old. No one remembers the victorious moments that he lived and the glory of his success vanishes with age. The poem challenges the traditional idea of living a long life and disapproves that it is tragic to die young.

A young athletic champion’s death being mourned at his funeral where the poet realizes that this early death is indeed his luck. He feels that if he had lived longer, his laurels would only have withered away. By dying in his youth, he will be fondly remembered by everyone for his youthful accomplishments. A death in the old age would have only resulted in people ignoring and forgetting the laurels earned by the young athlete.

The story revolves around a famous athlete who was a racing champion and earned laurels and admiration. But the fame and glory are not forever, they fade away as does the youth. The phrase ‘silence sounds no worse than cheers after earth has stopped the ears’ implies that the fame of the famous athlete has expired and applaud from the crowd is no longer heard.

No one remembers the names and the laurels of a man by the time he grows old .The reverence with which he was remembered by everyone in his youth defeats him. He is after earning fame all the life and trying to be in limelight, but the fame does not remain with him for lifetime.

In order to avoid the ignominy, it is important to quit and accept that fame does not remain forever. This is the only way to retain and live with the pride and not to face the indignity of fading away. Only people who understand and accept this can preserve their laurels.’ Early though the laurels grow, it withers quicker than the rose’ reinforced that victory and fame are temporary and thus fade away with time.

He maintains that an athlete dying young will attract more admirers and people will always have fond memories of his feats. The ‘garland on his curls’ refers to the appreciation for the achievements that he made when he lived. He will get more respect and revere for his laurels without having to face the heartbreak that would have accompanied him for life if he had lived. Thus untimely or young death of a positive has been taken in a positive light by the poet on the argument that one loses their honors and skills if they continue to live until an old age. The lost honors would have been a kind of the death to the athlete while still alive.