Contrast Essay: “To An Athlete Dying Young” vs. “Ex-Basketball Player” “To An Athlete Dying Young” and “Ex-Basketball Player” share the lives of two very different athletes. Both experience success in their lives, but one dies with his glory while the other lives past his days of glory and works at a gas pump where he is not recognized. The poems discuss the importance of having glory and keeping that glory as long as possible. Through the poems the readers learn the benefits of dying young as well as the consequences of living after one’s glory has faded.
Where Houseman glorifies the athlete for his achievements and early death, Updike portrays the disappointment of the athlete living past his days of glory and not reaching high standards through out is life. The glory of the athlete in “To An Athlete Dying Young” is portrayed as the speaker directly addresses the athlete while the speaker of “Ex-Basketball Player” tell the story of an athlete whose glory is fading. Housman’s speaker directly addresses the athlete through out the poem to give the athlete more encouragement and clearly indicate that it is better to die young.
Through out the poem, the speaker stresses the benefits of dying young by addressing the athlete directly as well as showing his honor for the young dead athlete. The speaker knows that the athlete will not see his glory fade since he tells the athlete, “you will not swell the rout of lads who wore their honors out”(18). The word “you” puts great emphasis on the line and appeals more to the readers as it directly speaks to the athlete. Since the speaker directly addresses the athlete there is more satisfaction present in the readers. The readers know that the death of the athlete was for his own benefit as now he will be better remembered.
While Housman’s speaker directly addresses the athlete to emphasize that dying young will help the athlete’s glory to survive, Updike’s speaker simply tells the life story of an athlete who has lost his glory. As the speaker does not address the athlete directly, the poem seems more monotone than “To An Athlete Dying Young”. Through out the poem, the speaker tells the story of Flick as if he was no longer important. Updike uses the pronoun “he” to emphasize the fading glory of Flick. Flick does not have success in his life anymore as he s either at work at the gas station or “he hangs around Mae’s luncheonette” (26). In contrast to the pronoun “you”, “he” sounds more distant and dull. The speaker of “Ex-Basketball Player” portrays the tediousness of Flick’s life through such pronouns as he does not have the honor and glory he once achieved. Through the way the poem is addressed to the subject, the contrast between Housman’s glorious athlete and Updike’s failed athlete can be clearly distinguished as the readers can see the disappointment that Flick’s life has become as he is not glorified like the young dead athlete. To An Athlete Dying Young” uses imagery to glorify the athlete whereas “Ex-Basketball Player” uses the same technique to show the athlete’s fading glory. Housman uses imagery through out the poem to present the athlete with glory. Through the actions of the townspeople the readers understand the glory and fame the athlete has received after winning the race. He is treated like a hero as the townspeople “chair [him] through the marketplace” (2) and bring him home shoulder-high. These actions of the townspeople indicate that the athlete is living a life of honor as he is held high above everyone else.
More importantly, his honor is not diminished even after he dies. Housman emphasizes that it is better to die young while one still has the glory and honor. For instance, the athlete is remembered by the town as a man who achieved a great title and he is also the only glorious one amongst the dead. He stands out among the dead athletes who died at an old age when they had already outrun their glorious years. However, this athlete dies young while he still has the fame and renown since “round that early-laurelled head will flock the strength less dead” (26).
The strength less dead are the athletes whose “name died before the man”(20). Housman emphasizes through the imagery that it is better to do while one is still remembered since the glory will stay with him and not fade away. “To An Athlete Dying Young” glorifies the athlete through the use of imagery while “Ex-Basketball Player” uses it to emphasize the athlete’s fading glory. In contrast to the imagery used by Housman, Updike stresses the athlete’s fading glory as the athlete has lived past his triumphant days.
As “To An Athlete Dying Young” begins the poem through the imagery that shows the athlete’s success and his gain of honor, whereas “Ex-Basketball Player” indicates that the athlete’s life is no longer filled with glory. The road leading to the place where he works shares with the readers how meaningless and empty the athlete’s life has become as the road “runs past the high-school lot, bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off” (2). Flick, the subject of the poem, has had his years of glory when he played for his high school since he had the skills and talent to break records.
He had extra talent that made him become one with the basketball and handle it like no one else could as “his hands were like wild birds” (18). Although Flick had his glorious years, unlike the athlete in “To An Athlete Dying Young” Flick’s glory does not last because he now “checks oil, and changes flats” (20). “To An Athlete Dying Young” emphasizes that it is better to die young while the glory is still with the athlete and the subject of the poem does die; on the other hand, “Ex-Basketball Player” portrays the life of an athlete who has lived past his days of glory and is no longer remembered with honor.
Housman tells the readers that dying young will guarantee that the name does not die before the athlete whereas Updike shows the athlete whose name has already faded and he is still alive. The final lines of the poem emphasize that Flick still dreams of being among the best at basketball, but he longer can as he failed to uphold the glory as he imagines himself in front of “bright applauding tiers” (29). In contrast to “To An Athlete Dying Young” , the imagery used in “Ex-Basketball Player” emphasizes the athlete’s fading glory as he has lived beyond his days of success.
Furthermore, the tones of the poems differ greatly as “To An Athlete Dying Young” has a praising tone while “Ex-Basketball Player” has a very neutral, discouraging tone. In “To An Athlete Dying Young” the speaker seems envious of the young dead athlete through the way he addresses him. As the speaker tells the athlete that he is a “smart lad, to slip betimes away from fields where glory does not stay” (10), the readers know that it was better for the athlete to die and not see his glory fade. The praise in the speaker’s voice is emphasized since he addresses the athlete as “smart lad”.
This phrase creates a more light-hearted and encouraging tone since the speaker shows that dying young is not sad, but it is more beneficial for the athlete for he will still have his glory. On the other hand, the tone of “Ex-Basketball Player” is less enthusiastic and it does not encourage the athlete. The speaker degrades the athlete as he tells the readers that Flick “never learned a trade” (19). In contrast to “To An Athlete Dying Young” the speaker does not praise the athlete as he compares the athlete to his high school days of glory and how he is not the same anymore since he did not pay attention at school.
The athlete’s failures are more apparent in the poem than his success; thus, the poem has a monotonous tone. Where the speaker praises the athlete through the tone in “To An Athlete Dying Young”, the speaker in “Ex-Basketball Player” develops a discouraging tone. Housman glorifies the athlete for his achievements and dying early with his honor while Updike does not give credit to the athlete for his accomplishments, but shows his disappointment in the athlete’s fading glory. The poems share the benefits of having glory, but also emphasize that once the glory fades, the athletes’ names are fading.
The success of the young dead athlete is remembered by everyone as he dies when he is still in his moment of glory, while Flick lives past his glorious days and his name is only faintly remembered. The contrast between the poems is emphasized through the way the speaker addresses the athlete, imagery, and tone. Housman and Updike stress the way glory can fade and change an athlete’s life while also telling the readers that dying young helps to be remembered with the glory still within the athlete.
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