Thursday, February 12, 2009

Poems we hate: AE Housman, "To an Athlete Dying Young"

Why do we hate it? Because the sentiment is incredibly trite, and more than a little insulting. "Boy, you should sure be glad you're buying the farm now; otherwise, your life would have gotten MUCH, MUCH worse, because let's face it--how could it POSSIBLY get any better than the transcendental awesomeness of being a high school track star? Trust me--death is FAR preferable to having to live up to that incredible achievement. You should be grateful."

Were I the dying athlete in question I would respond: "What the fuck, AE? Is this supposed to make me feel better? I was a TEENAGE TRACK STAR. You think that equals eternal glory? I'll TELL you what it equals: There will be a moment of silence in my honor in homeroom. They will put up a plaque for me on a decorative boulder. My name will be remembered by people who live in this town--and in this town ONLY--until they die off. Then, NO ONE will remember. C'est tout. How dare you suggest that this rather-insignificant-in-the-long-run achievement is the best I could do? We're not all doomed to be Rabbit Angstrom, you asshole. It's too bad YOU didn't die young: then someone could have written a poem about what a lucky break YOUR young death was, because if you'd lived longer, people would have been forced to endure your shitty poetry. It wouldn't likely be much of a poem either, but at least it would have irony in its favor."


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