I must confess that I do not understand lots of poems. I really never liked reading poetry so I guess as a result I did not develop an liking for it. I see this especially when I see how much better others understand poems. There are some poems, as I have noted over the past weeks, that have stuck with me.
I have read about the importance of memorizing poetry as a means of improving the mind especially when one is young. I was recently reading Edith Wharton’s autobiography A Backward Glance and learned how much she enjoyed poetry as a kid. My mother was great at poetry and would recited some of her favorites to me when I was young. Those are the ones I remember mostly now although I am much less capable of reciting them from memory that her.
One poet I like was Ogden Nash who wrote what he called the Shortest Poem in the World. He called it Fleas. It read: “Adam Had’em” One day when my daughter was in her pre-teen years and giving me a hard time over something I was asking her to do so I came up with a shorter poem. I called it The Naughty Girl. It read: “Go! No!”
One poem I always enjoyed and think of it at this time of the year when the World Series is being played is Casey at the Bat. I worked with a guy named Casey who was a real good guy. One day he pulled up outside. On top of his car was a canoe that he had just bought. He came into the office and told about the negotiations, how long he waited to get it, how it was quite special. and how he planned to use it that afternoon after work.
Being a little mischievous I cut up a vanilla folder and shaped it in the form of a tag one would see on a store product. I typed on it something to the effect: “This canoe is for exhibit only. Does not float. Do not sell.” I slipped outside and affixed it under the canoe. After a while someone suggested we go out and look at the canoe. Casey happily and proudly led us to see it.
Someone saw the tag and showed it to Casey. He hit the roof. He swore up and down. He was going to head right back to the store to confront (and possibly do harm to) the seller. Before things got too out of hand, I confessed. He wasn’t that pleased with my joke.
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood four to two with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought if only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money now with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted some one on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”
“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clinched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.