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Compare and Contrast Poems, “To An Athlete Dying Young” by A.E. Housman (1859-1936) and “Ex-Basketball Player” by John Updike (born 1932)

Compare and contrast the following poems, “To An Athlete Dying Young” by A.E. Housman (1859-1936) and “Ex-Basketball Player” by John Updike (born 1932) Both ” To an Athlete Dying Young” and “Ex-Basketball Player” deal with the former athletes’ glorious past when the runner in the first poem died and the basketball player in the second poem retired. However, ironically, the fame of the athlete who died at a young age remains while the fame of the ex-basketball player fades with his age. Firstly, ” To an Athlete Dying Young” is addressed to the athlete himself as we can see from “To” and “you” and “your”, the speaker is directly speaking to him, telling him how they as supporters “chaired: him and honoured him. Moreover, in the first sentence of the first stanza, the athlete is already being addressed; thus, the speaker has a sense of sincerity and respect. Even though he has died, people still remember him and gives him glory.

The “Ex-Basketball Player”, however, uses third-person narration. We notice that the poem begins with the description of an ordinary and unattractive urbane place. It is only at the end of the first stanza, “Flick Webb”, the athlete is introduced; this shows the insignificance of the athlete in people’s hearts and gives us a feeling that when retired, the athlete is forgotten by the town. From “on the corner facing west…you’ll find Flick Webb” further shows the fact that he is no longer the centre of people’s focus, and it is only occasionally, people may be able to remember him. Both poems show the view that fame dies very fast. In “To an Athlete Dying Young”, a metaphor is used to compare glory to the “rose”, which is a symbol of beauty and fragility (“it withers quicker than the rose”) The fact that fame is compared to a living thing shows that it is natural for it to “grow” and “die”, and it is a continual process since people are getting famous and then gradually be forgotten and the cycle continues.

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However, it is different for the athlete who died young; since he has not completed the “fame cycle”, his name remains “unwithered”. In people’s hearts, he remains young forever, as we can see the repetition of “lad” in the poem, and the “still defended” shows a sense of continuation, that his spirit never dies. People will always remember and support him. The “Ex-Basketball Player”, in contrast, totally supports the view that the fame ages with the ageing athlete. As we see from the description of Flick having “old bubble-head style”, which is obviously outdated, and the elbows being “loose and low” shows his physical degradation, and the comparison of him to a gas pump dehumanizes him and thus shows a form of disrespect of the people towards him. Furthermore, the “grease-grey” suggests dullness and the descriptions of his daily smoking “those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphate” suggests a form of ordinary and banal lifestyle, which implies that his fame has died. The intensive use of commas and full stops in the entire poem also suggests the “short-lived” glory of the basketball player.

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Both poems show the athletes’ splendid past and how they brought their town glory. However, the difference is that the “athlete dying young” rewards him and glorifies him when he died. The two “shoulder-high” in the poem shows firstly how the athlete honoured the town, and the “shoulder-high we bring you home” shows that when he dies, people honour him and his high status remains in people’s heart. Furthermore, “silence sounds no worse than cheers” shows people’s sincerity in mourning him and the tribute they are paying for him. “Silence” also shows the respect that people still treat him as an important person and his significance does not “wither” with his death; in the “Ex-basketball Player” however, although “he was good: in fact, the best”, in one “home game”, his hands were like “wild birds”, very agile and brave and capable, he won the game and brought his town glory, there is no mention of him been honoured in return.

In contrast, the phrases such as “most of us remember anyway”, “makes no difference”, and “kind of” shows an apathetic attitude of the people toward him. There is a sense of ignorance, and people are not bothering any more about it. The “applauding tiers” in the last stanza personified the tiers of the pump to the hands of the human beings. Still, the difference between them is that the tiers would never clap for the “ex-basketball player”, which again shows that his supporters have forgotten him. In conclusion, by putting the two poems together, we see that while an athlete grows old but still alive, he retired and become an “ex-” player who was only remembered by the people occasionally, the athlete who dies early would always be remembered in his most glorious moment.

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Compare and Contrast Poems, "To An Athlete Dying Young" by A.E. Housman (1859-1936) and "Ex-Basketball Player" by John Updike (born 1932). (2021, Aug 09). Retrieved September 30, 2022, from