A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

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.

Today, 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.



When I was one-and-twenty
     I heard a wise man say,
‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas
     But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
     But keep your fancy free.’
But I was one-and-twenty
     No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
     I heard him say again,
‘The heart out of the bosom
     Was never given in vain;
’Tis paid with sighs a plenty
     And sold for endless rue.’
And I am two-and-twenty
     And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.



Some can gaze and not be sick,
But I could never learn the trick.
There’s this to say for blood and breath,
They give a man a taste for death.



Here dead lie we because we did not choose
     To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
     But young men think it is, and we were young.         



I did not lose my heart in summer’s even,
     When roses to the moonrise burst apart:
When plumes were under heel and lead was flying,
     In blood and smoke and flame I lost my heart.

I lost it to a soldier and a foeman,
     A chap that did not kill me, but he tried;
That took the sabre straight, and took it striking
     And laughed and kissed his hand to me and died.