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World War I, Golf and Golf Poetry

 

Robert Stanley Weir

 The First World War began 100 years ago this month. With this in mind, I would like to devote at least the next two Posts to links between the War, golf and golf poetry. Previously I published a Post called “Golf and the Great War” (http://bit.ly/1kZL9n2). These Posts will add more stories and information to the subject.

While doing research for my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, (now available on Amazon in Europe for lower prices 6.50 pounds, 7.82 Euros), I discovered a Canadian poet-golfer named Robert Stanley Weir, 1856-1926, who wrote an impressive war-related poem at the beginning of World War I. Let me quote from my book:

“Robert Stanley Weir, a Canadian, wrote a poem, “The Plains of Abraham,” published in the April 1915 issue of Golf Illustrated and Outdoor America. Weir, a Montreal judge, writer and poet, was most famous for writing in 1908 the first English lyrics to O Canada, Canada’s national anthem. Today’s official English lyrics to the anthem are based on Weir’s original version. A little digging also shows that Weir was a golfer and frequent contributor to Golf Illustrated. He wrote book reviews and several articles on swing mechanics. One titled “Braid or Vardon, Which?” focuses on the swings of these two champions and ends with the thought:

 ‘Whether we essay the mighty Vardonian sweep or Braid’s whip-like, corkscrew-like snap, let us beware of adopting one theory to the denial of any other possible one. It is a great satisfaction and advantage to be able to recognize and adopt both.’

 Clearly the Judge was a student of the game.

The title of Weir’s poem, “The Plains of Abraham,” refers to a plateau just outside the wall of Quebec City where a famous battle was fought between the British and French on September 13, 1759. The British won this pivotal battle; however, the British commander, General James Wolfe, was mortally wounded and died on the battle field. The French commander, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, was also mortally wounded and died the next day. From 1874 to 1915, Cove Fields on the Plains of Abraham was the site of the Quebec Golf Club. This background is needed to understand the setting for the poem. The poem, written at the beginning of the First World War, is a strong and heartfelt statement against war.

The Plains of Abraham

Here, where so long ago the battle roared
Sore frighting Dawn when, trembling, she arose
And saw the precious blood of Wolfe out-poured
And France’s hero sinks to long repose.

The grass, they say, is greener for the red
That drenched these plains and hollows all about;
And those thrice fifty years or more have spread
Much peacefulness on glacis and redoubt. [defensive fortifications]

Yes, Mother Nature, grieving, hideth soon
All trace of battles, ravage, death and pain.
The birds began to sing that afternoon—
The dusty, trodden grass to rise again.

And many a year the Citadel’s gray walls
Have seen the quiet golfers at their play:
Passing old ramparts, rusted cannon-balls,
And sighting gunless ships the river way.

Thrilled with the peace of golf the players said:
“Those cruel wars can ne’er again have birth;
The living shall no longer mourn their dead
Untimely gathered to reluctant earth.”

“The tribes shall rest—nor nearer conflict come
Than when a friendly foursome play the game;
The roaring voice of Wrath is stricken dumb
O better brotherhood than battle-fame!”

But, hark, the roaring of unnumbered guns
By salt Atlantic breezes hither blown!
And bitter cries from countless weeping ones,
While Peace is wringing her cold hands alone!”

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Golf Poetry at its Best

for Golfer's Discontent post

 

Robert K. Risk and Grantland Rice are two of my favorite golf poets. This Blog (and my book) contain poems by both. I think I remember reading that Rice wrote more than 6000 poems throughout his lifetime. He wrote on may subjects besides golf. His most famous lines come from a 1908 poem called “Alumnus Football” (http://bit.ly/1l7QLGe):

“For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.”

 

Risk, on the other hand, seems to have limited his poetry to golf. He was a Scottish writer, poet and drama critic. As far as I know he published a single collection of golf poems in 1919 under the title, “Songs of the Links.” The book contains 36 poems and this may be all that Risk ever published. Nevertheless, almost all are worth reading. I am particularly fond of the one that I want to share with you in this post. It describes beautifully. with humor and clarity, how golfers always seem to long for some level of play that they cannot achieve. And then ends by pointing out the disappointment that would result from playing too well.

THE GOLFER’S DISCONTENT

By Robert K. Risk

The evils of the Golfer’s state
Are shadows, not substantial things –
That envious bunkers lie in wait
For all our cleanest, longest swings;
The pitch that should have won the round
Is caught and killed in heavy ground.

And even if at last we do
That 80, coveted so long,
A melancholy strain breaks through
The cadence of our even-song –
A  7  (which was “an easy 4″)
Has “spoilt our 77 score.”

And thus, with self-deception bland,
We mourn the fours that should have been,
Forgetting, on the other hand,
The luck that helped us through the green;
Calmly accepting as our due
The four-hole which we fluked in two.

The drive that barely cleared the sand,
The brassy-shot which skimmed the wall,
The useful “kick,” the lucky “land” –
We never mention these at all;
The only luck that we admit
Is when misfortune comes of it.

And therefore, in a future state,
When we shall all putt out in two,
When drives are all hole-high and straight,
And every yarn we tell is true,
Golf will be wearisome and flat,
When there is naught to grumble at.

 

 

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A Masters Chip for the Ages: Tiger on 16 in 2005

 Tiger's ball at the penultimate moment

 

With Tiger absent from this years Masters, it is a good time to remember one of his most famous Masters shots which he made on the 16th hole in 2005. If you saw it live I would bet that you still remember it. But even for those of you that do and also for those that missed it, I offer my recollection as follows:

♦A Masters Chip for the Ages

From a difficult lie beyond
the steeply sloped sixteenth green

a steely-eyed Tiger sent his ball
to a spot far above the hole,

the ball coming crisply off his wedge,
flew low, bounced once

and rolled on a yard or two
until gravity took over,

causing it to turn sharply,
and start slowly down the slope

towards the hole, speeding up
then slowing again as it got closer.

“All of a sudden,” Tiger’s words,
“it looked really good.”

“How could it not go in?” and
when it stopped, a single turn short,

“How did it not go in?”,
“And all of a sudden it went in.”

It was as if Tiger’s will
had given gravity an assist.

“In your life,” the tower announcer’s voice,
“have you seen anything like that?”

While around him, the patrons’ roar
rose rocket-like, fueled by sheer wonder.

Leon S White, PhD

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Waiting for the Spring Opening of My Golf Course

Chapter 17 001

 

It is about this time of year that frustration sets in if you live in a cold climate area. Spring has arrived once again as an unplayable. Where I live in Massachusetts as I write this, snow still covers half of my backyard and probably half of the local golf course. The Golf Expo has come through town, the few golf emporiums than remain are beckoning with sales and I can still do no better than to practice putting in the playroom.

The poets understood the meaning of Spring to golfers who must wait out its first weeks until the temperatures rise. Clinton Scollard in an epic poem of some 90 stanzas may have said it best more than 90 years ago. In describing the travails of a novice golfer, he concludes with three stanzas that describe the golfer’s anticipation of his second season. (Suggestion: read the three stanzas out loud and slowly; don’t worry about a few strange words; and when you finish read it once more. I guarantee you will enjoy both readings, but especially the second.)

Yes, he can wait until the vernal chord
Softly smitten, and the umbered sward
     Quickens beneath the sun’s renewing fire.
And stripling Spring is Winter’s overlord.

 Then feel his feet the tempting turf once more,
While down the distance floats his ringing “fore!”
     And he is brother to the hale desire
That is of all reviving things the core.

 Others may catch the scattered scrap and shard
Of exultation, but to them is barred
     The keen elation that the Golfer knows
When Spring’s first ball is teed and driven hard.

These last two lines illustrate once again how a poet’s few carefully chosen words can speak so personally to every avid golfer:

     “The keen elation that the Golfer knows
 When Spring’s first ball is teed and driven hard.”

[Clinton Scollard was a prolific writer and poet. For eight years he was a professor of English literature at Hamilton College in New York. The poem (in three Cantos and an Envoy) appears in a book called The Epic of Golf published in 1923. The 17th chapter of my book, Golf Course of Rhymes - Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages includes more verses from Scollard's poem and a description of the entire poem  ]

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The Joys of Life and Golf

I have now been writing this Blog for five years. I began with a discovery –  an unknown literature of golf poetry – and a thought that it would be nice to share some of the best of these poems with other avid golfers. Along the way I decided to include some of my poetry as well.

I am pleased to say that over the five years this tiny space on the Internet has attained more than 100,000 page views from more than 120 countries. I am very grateful for all of you who have come and have encouraged others to try the site as well.

In this year-end Post I would first like to share with you a short poem by Robert Frost that I enjoyed and have re-read several times. I include it as an example of how poetry like music can immediately make you feel better.

Dust of Snow
Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

After reading Frost’s poem I thought of a poem that I wrote called “On Course” where I tried to create a feeling of joy about playing the game of golf. I hope you will enjoy it.

On Course
Leon S White, PhD

Golf is a singular way
to take temporary leave
following a zigzag path
in search of a small white ball;

to abandon reality,
but stay the course,
hole after hole;

to create a new story,
always different
to be told to someone
before it’s forgotten.

An extraordinary chance
to pretend for a brief time
no matter how unskilled
that each stroke will be flawless;

to endure the pain of failure
without really failing,
and even if only once a round,

to truly enjoy
the pure pleasure
of hitting the ball rock-solid
or sinking a long tricky putt.

“On Course” is included in both of my books, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages and If Only I Could Play That Hole Again.

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“The Golfer’s Waggle” for Jason Dufner, PGA Champion and Champion Waggler

Jason Dufner

Jason Dufner, who last week won his first major, the PGA Championship, has become well known to the golfing public in the last two years for his approach to waggling his club before hitting the ball. Waggling may be as old as the game of golf itself. And an unknown poet almost one hundred years ago provided us with the most detailed analysis of this pre-shot phenomenon. The poem appeared in The American Golfer in September 1915. (The few Scottish expressions are starred and translated.)

The Golfer’s Waggle

Every golfer has a waggle—
A waggle o’ his ain—*                                           of his own
A wiggle-waggle, long and short,
Wi’ flourishes or plain.

The long and quick, the short and quick,
Long, short, and quick and slow;
The variety is infinite
That golfin’ waggles show.

The sprightly waggle of success,
Dull waggle of defeat;
The weary waggle-wasting time,
The waggle of conceit.

The waggle of the swanky pro,
Of “Far and Sure” design;
The feeble waggle of old age,
That preludes “off the line.”

The caddie’s waggle-dry asides,
That golfers whiles maun* suffer;                                   must
And worst o’ waggles on the links,
The waggle of the duffer.

The waggle shows the waggler,
Be the waggle slow or quick;
There is mair* into the waggle,                                      more
Than the waggle o’ the stick.

The poem can be found in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. (Available on Amazon.com.)

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt

Golf_Improve_Swing_Joke (1)

If you want to improve your putting, you might consider studying the form of a great putter such as Brad Faxon. When writing poetry I often look for inspiration to the great poets such as Wallace Stevens. Steven was a major American modernist poet who was born in 1879 and lived through the first half of the 20th century. He was renowned for his philosophic poetry that examined the relationship between an individual’s thoughts and feelings and the surrounding environment. One of his most famous poems was titled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” (You will find it here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174503.)  Using this poem as a starting point for its format and introspection, I have tried to explore the mysteries of putting with my poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt.” (If you want to see how I made use of Steven’s poem to write mine, you might try toggling between the two.)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Putt
(With apologies to Wallace Stevens)

I
Among the hills and valleys of the green
The only objects moving
Were the eyes of the golfer
Surveying his putt.

II
He was of more than one mind
Like the just finished foursome
Now in the clubhouse bar.

III
Standing behind the ball looking
For the line, he then crouched
For a second look
Reading from his putting book.

IV
A golfer and his putter
Are one
But a golfer and his putter and his putt
Are one
Only if the ball goes in.

V
I do not know which to prefer
The beauty of a perfectly struck putt
Or the beauty of a green at sunset
The ball dropping
Or just after.

VI
The golfer moved around
Behind the pin,
The shadow of a blackbird
Crossing his own shadow
As he took up a new position
From which to trace a path
Ball to hole.

VII
Fellow golfer
Why do you imagine a birdie?
Don’t you see the
Difficulties of the putt?
Par is always a good score.

VIII
I know of noble efforts
And of rhythmic swings
But I know too
Not to include all that I know
In preparing for my next putt.

IX
When the ball stopped on the green
It only crossed over the edge
Of the larger circle.

X
At the sight of an unputtable ball
Mired in tall grass beyond a green
The errant golfer
Would like to cry out sharply
And often does.

XI
He rides from green to green
In a golf cart
Often fearful that
What putting skills he has
Will disappear along the path
Between holes.

XII
The putt is rolling off line
His head must have moved.

XIII
Look at a putt thirteen ways,
And you can still miss it.
Or with a quick look
It might go in.

This poem appears in my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages.

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For Golfers April is National (Golf) Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, but of course for golfers it’s National Golf Poetry Month. True, the Masters gets more attention in April, but we golfers should not lose sight of the fact that while the first Masters was played in 1934, the first poem that included a reference to golf was published in 1638!  Golf poetry was most popular in the early 20th century. The golf magazines of the time included golf poems in almost every issue. A number of golf poets such as Robert K Risk (one of the best)  also published books of their poetry.

As those of you know who follow this Blog, I have tried to revive interest in golf poetry through my Posts, of which this is number 150, and through my two books:

Golf Course Of Rhymes - Links Between Golf And Poetry Through The Ages          Final Briggs Cover for Vook ebook

Both are available on Amazon.com. If Only I Could Play That Hole Again is an eBook that is also available for Nook and the iPad. (For descriptions click in the header above)

I would like to mention two other  golf poetry books that are currently available on Amazon. The first is an eBook called Eighteen Holes and is written by Mike Ellwood. Mike describes the book as “a round of golf in poetry.” It consists of 18 poems with an additional on at the Nineteenth Hole. To quote Mike again, the poetry describes the “the drama, excitement and sheer fun of a round of golf.” The second is called Golf Sonnets and its author is James Long Hale. James describes his book as “A delightful collection of humorous sonnets and illustrations about the Game of Golf.”

With Mother’s Day and then Father’s Day not too far in the future, you might consider a golf poetry book. At least you will know that it will be their first!

I can’t write a Post without at least a few lines of poetry, so here are two four-liners.

THE YIPS PURE AND SIMPLE

You have the yips if you miss- hit your putts
Frequent attacks can drive you nuts
The yips occur when you’re not controlling
The direction or speed of the ball that you’re rolling.

CHANGING ODDS

Heard said that trees are nine-tenth air
If your ball gets over you hardly care;
But if it’s low and lost from view
It’s no more than even that your ball gets through.

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The End of Golf Season Once More

The following is an excerpt from my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. (The book is available on Amazon,  Barnes and Nobles and Amazon in Europe including Amazon UK.)

Francis Bowler Keene, who graduated from HarvardUniversity in 1880, a contemporary of Kipling, wrote a poem that should appeal especially to golfers who live in snowy areas of the country. In his title, Keene uses the word “monody,” meaning lament, to set his tone.

A Golfer’s Monody, After the First Snowfall

No greens, no tees;
.        No fragrant breeze;

No harmony of happy-hearted birds;
.        No verdure deep;
.        No roaming sheep;

No faithful collies, watchful of their herds;
.        No sunny glade;
.        No woodland shade;

No ferny path beneath the rustling trees;
.        No springy turf;
.        No murmuring surf;

No passing hum of honey-laden bees;
.        No motors fleet;
.        No golfers’ meet;

No lazy caddies lolling day by day;
.        No warning call;
.        No flying ball;

No contest in the fine and friendly fray;
.        No clubs to wield;
.        No drive afield;

No plaudits as the ball, far-driven flies;
.        No close-trimmed lawn;
.        No bunker’s yawn;

No hidden hazards lurking with bad lies;
.        No brassy swift;
.        No niblick’s lift;

No ringing click of iron, clear and clean;
.        No cleek’s true swing;
.        No mashie’s fling;

No careful putt along the velvet green;
.        No Club-nights gay;
.        No moonlit bay;

No dinners marked by mirth and merry jest;
.        No music bright;
.        No dancers light;

No broad verandah thronged with happy guests;
.        No winding walks;
.        No golfers’ talks;

No genuine delight for every member;
.        No matches more;
.        No games galore;
.        No joyous strife;
.        No zest in life;
.                November.

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Golf, War and Freddie Tate

In my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages I devoted part of a chapter to golf related poems connected with World War I.  Since writing the book, I discovered a poem about Frederick Tate, a Scottish amateur golfer who lost his life in the Second Boer War. Tate was killed in action on February 7, 1900 at the age of 30.

During his brief amateur career, Freddie Tate, as he was called, won two Amateur Championships (1896, 1898) and twice placed third in the Open Championship (1896, 1897). And during that career he won the hearts of Scotland’s golfing public. Bernard Darwin wrote in his Sketchbook,

“In his day and in his own Scotland he was a national hero. I do not think I have ever seen any other golfer so adored by the crowd─no, not Harry Vardon or Bobby Jones in their primes. It was a tremendous and, to his adversaries, an almost terrifying popularity.”

So  the tremendous outpouring of grief  was not surprising when news of his death reached Great Britain. Little more than two weeks after his death, the February 23, 1900 issue of Golf Illustrated included a long “Appreciation” by the magazine’s Editor and the following  poem. Many more tributes followed.

    LIEUTENANT F.G. TAIT

(Killed at Koodoosberg, February, 1900)

Another hero from the fair-haired North
Add to the roll of those the boding strains
Of War ‘twixt Boer and Briton summoned forth
To shed their life blood on dark Afric’s plains.

There’s Golf where’er on earth sounds English tongue,
And where’er golfers meet, at rest or play,
Where champion feats at Golf are told or sung,
The name of Freddy Tait will live for aye.

We read his death, with eye perforce grown dim
For comrade snatched before us from the strife;
We mourn our loss, but should we mourn for him?
Could death more glorious crown a fairer life?

He died “with sword in hand for England’s right;”
Aye, this he did, and dying left behind,
‘Mong those who to the end will see this fight,
No better golfer, and no nobler mind.

As we salute our Veterans today, and much a Europe remembers World War I, golfers around the world might also want to remember the most famous and heroic Scottish amateur golfer, Freddie Tate.

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