As I have written in other Posts, the primary purpose of this Blog and my two books (see Banner) is to offer today’s golfer enthusiasts the opportunity to have fun with and learn from poetry. For many of you “poetry” is on the other side of a literary out-of-bounds line. I’m trying to bring it back onto the fairway to give you a shot at it. That’s what this Blog and my two books are about.
In this first Post of 2013, I would like to begin by wishing you (who come to this Blog from more than 100 countries) a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. And now I’d like to show you how one of my recent searches for old golf poetry led to the discovery of a non-golf poem that includes well-known lines of inspiration.
In a previous post I included a poem from a book called The Golf Craze – Sketches and Rhymes published in Edinburgh and London in 1905. Between the Table of Contents and the first Chapter of the book, the author (John Hogben writing under the pseudonym Cleeke Shotte, Esq.) included the following verse by W. E. Henley:
“Out on the links, where the wind blows free,
And the surges gush, and the rounding brine
Wanders and sparkles, an air like wine
Fills the senses with pride and glee.”
When I find an old golf poem or verse, I often also try to determine the poet’s connection to the game. So I Goggled Henley’s name and found a very interesting Wikipedia entry.
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) was an English poet, critic and editor. He was born the son of a poor Victorian Englishman. From age 12 he suffered from tuberculosis, and when he was in his teens his left leg below the knee was amputated. After a long recovery, when he was in his early twenties the disease made a comeback. His doctor proposed amputating his right foot to save Henley’s life. Refusing to accept the doctor’s advice Henley got a second opinion. The new doctor saved the foot, but there were two more years of recovery. While in hospital he met his future wife, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson, who became literary collaborator and friend; and also while there Henley wrote the poem Invictus.
Two things I learned from this search. First, Henley had a wonderful feeling for “the links” without playing them. (Given his physical trials it is unlikely that he ever played golf.) And second, he left us a most inspiring poem with phrases that you have often heard.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
This poem was originally published without a title. A publisher later added it. You can go to this second Wikipedia entry to learn more about the poem and some of its more public influences.
Note: Searching through Henley’s poetry I found the golf related verse above comes from a poem called “Ballade of Aspiration.” Here is the first two stanza which precede the verse which is the first half of the third stanza. Click here for the complete text.
O to be somewhere by the sea,
Far from the city’s dust and shine,
From Mammon’s priests and from Mammon’s shrine,
From the stony street, and the grim decree
That over an inkstand crooks my spine,
From the books that are and the books to be
And the need that makes of the sacred Nine,
A school of harridans ! – sweetheart mine,
O to be somewhere by the sea !
Under a desk I bend my knee,
Whether the morn be foul or fine.
I envy the tramp, in a ditch supine,
Or footing it over the sunlit lea.
But I struggle and write and make no sign,
For a laboring ox must earn his fee,
And even a journalist has to dine;
But O for a breath of the eglantine!
O to be somewhere by the sea.
So even this non-golfing journalist/poet saw the attractiveness of the links “by the sea.”