Where does the good go

Better off Dead (by guest blogger F)

When Dawn asked me to guest-blog a poetry Wednesday, I said to myself “Dawn? Who’s Dawn? I have a friend named after dish-soap?” Then I remembered that Dawn was the brilliant pseudonym of my friend *****. So, sure *****, anything for you! (Cash. I want cash. –Ed.)

When I was younger I was infatuated with poems about death and evilness and darkness; brooding Goth stuff:
Donne’s “Death be not proud”
Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for death”
Frost’s “Fire and Ice”
But now that I’ve grown up, I’m more intrigued by…um…well…the same stuff.
So here’s a not so subtle poem about how lucky someone was to enter the sweet hereafter when he did:

To an Athlete Dying Young
by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

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.

To-day, 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 were 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.
I first read this poem when I was in Yeshiva in Israel, and a wizened old professor asked me to pick a poem to discuss with him. My roommate happened to have an old book of poetry that he let me borrow, and I picked this one.

The professor wasn’t too thrilled, as I probably picked the most “everything is pretty much laid out how it is and there isn’t much to think about behind the words” poem.
So why’d I pick this one for the professor?
1) I didn’t exactly want to spend hours discussing poetry when there was fun to be had. (Ouch, poetry Wednesday. Ouch.)
2) The way Housman uses “Shoulder-high” in the first and second stanza had a chilling effect on me. Be careful what you wish for and all, right?

(So, Dawn. Do you want to beat me at Scrabble and Set and for me to carry you shoulder-high?)
And why’d I pick it for now?
To blow the lid off this thing!
One of the words in the last stanza is the meaning of the name *****. Figure out which one and this blog’s secret is out. You hear that, *****! The cat is out of the bag! (I’m not weird, you’re weird.)

F was Dawn’s original gaming partner. He has the distinction of losing to her in Scrabble, Set and poker, on both coasts of the United States. He is also afraid of heights.

26 Responses to “Better off Dead (by guest blogger F)”

  1. Dawn Summers Says:

    I like this poem a lot. However, I do not for a second believe the poet really thinks the dead athlete is a “smart lad.” It smacks of the hypocrisy I also got from funeral sermon where the reading and homilies are all about how the deceased has gone to glory and is with God, but everyone is bawling their eyes out and nobody is in any hurry to join the dead. *Lazarus shrug* #imnothere

  2. fisch Says:

    OOOH! OOOH! I know which word in the last stanza is a synonym for your name: Strengthless.
    Yes, I’m positive!

  3. Dawn summers Says:

    My name means “crowned one”. I am also named after the first Christian martyr. So bow down before me, cause if you anger me, you will have to kill me. Wait… that doesn’t sound right…

  4. Dawn summers Says:


  5. fisch Says:

    Well, Summers.
    If the point of poetry wednesday is to get as few comments as possible, I WIN AGAIN.

  6. Dawn Summers Says:

    Did you have the most fun?

  7. Dawn Summers Says:

    AND THE FUCK? I Commented like FIVE times! Why does no one appreciate my comments. HMPH. #RUDE

  8. Anonymous Says:

    How is it a hiatus if you’re commenting?

  9. Pearatty Says:

    Oh, that was me.

  10. Pearatty Says:

    I like this poem. I have a problem with people who have a problem with poetry that doesn’t hide the ball. Maybe it makes it more difficult to justify granting a phd in literary criticism when poetry is intelligible, but I’d argue that poetry is better when it is intelligible.

  11. Pearatty Says:

    And I believe the word is “garland”.

  12. Pearatty Says:

    Well, hey, might as well make it 5 comments to match Dawn’s.

  13. Pearatty Says:

    When did Dawn get to be such a potty mouth? You kiss your mother with that mouth girly?

  14. fisch Says:

    Yayyyy, Pearatty!
    You got the word, and I agree with your views about poetry.
    And you commented.
    F would be happy.
    If he hadn’t died.
    Right after he won the race.
    Against Dawn.

  15. Dawn Summers Says:

    What are you talking about, pearatty? I specifically said “#imnothere” I hastagged it and everything! And f never beat Dawn at anything. Except at being a stupidface. But I didnt think he’d want to brag about that.

  16. Dawn Summers Says:

    Also, Vinnay’s gonna be mad now cause F got more comments than he did.

  17. Dawn Summers Says:

    Should I tell you all what F-train said about this poem? No? Ok.

  18. fisch Says:

    Rybka wants to know!
    You better tell!

  19. Pearatty Says:

    Rybka — ha! Little Fish?

  20. Dawn Summers Says:

    You speak Russian??

  21. Pearatty Says:

    Same in Polish.

  22. Dawn Summers Says:

    Ah. Lazy slavs. #noracist

  23. Angela Says:

    I didn’t comment because I only operate on a quid pro quo basis. Actually, that’s not correct, the absolute truth is that I saw the word “Athlete” in the title and lost interest.

    By here’s my addition to the comment pile nonetheless. You’re welcome.

  24. fisch Says:

    Angela, blame Dawn!
    I gave you a shout-out in the original title of the post, which was mysteriously changed to some lame-o title.
    Did Dawn change everyone’s title to something that sounds like one of her favorite tv shows, or just mine?

  25. Angela Says:

    That is so rude of her! But not surprising. Thanks for attempting to include me in the title!! Next time if you have a poem that doesn’t sound like sports I will totally comment!!

  26. F-Train Says:

    I refuse to be comment-baited by Dawn.

    Wait. Crap.

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