This post introduces an unusual but historically interesting golf poem called “If Gray had been a Golfer” by Samuel E. Kiser (1862-1942), a newspaperman, poet and humorist. Kiser’s poem of nine stanzas is a parody of a much longer poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” written by the English poet Thomas Gray (1716-1771) and first published in 1751.
Gray’s poem has been described as “one of the greatest poems in the English language,” and as such was often a candidate to be parodied. Also, two lines from the poem have inspired movie titles: “The paths of glory lead but to the grave” and “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.”
One of the themes of the poem, as embodied in the stanza below, is that poverty or other barriers prevent many talented people from fully exercising their capabilities.
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Kiser adopted this theme for his poem memorializing the “golfless” poor.
“If Gray had been a Golfer” is included in Henry Litchfiied West’s anthology, Lyrics of the Links, published in 1921 so it would have been written in 1920 or earlier and probably first appeared in a newspaper or magazine. Why Kiser, who seemed to be noted for inspirational and humorous poetry, should write such an unusual and somber golf poem is unclear. If you have an idea about the possible origin or reason for this poem, please leave a comment.
IF GRAY HAD BEEN A GOLFER
Beneath these rugged elms, that maple’s shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his last eternal bunker laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
Oft to the harvest did their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
Ah, but they had no mashies then to wield,
They never learned to use the Vardon stroke.
The poor old souls! They only live to toil,
To sow and reap and die, at last, obscure;
They never with their niblick tore the soil—
How sad the golfless annals of the poor!
The pomp of power may once have thrilled the souls
Of unenlightened men—today it sinks
Beneath the saving grace of eighteen holes!
The paths of glory lead but to the links.
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart that would have quickened to the game;
Hands that the lovely baffy might have swayed,
To Colonel Bogey’s everlasting shame.
Full many a hole was passed by them unseen,
Because no fluttering flag was hoisted there;
Full many a smooth and sacred putting green
They tore up with the plough, and didn’t care.
Some village Taylor, that with dauntless breast
Could whang the flail or swing the heavy maul;
Some mute inglorious Travis here may rest,
Some Harriman who never lost a ball.
Far from the eager foursome’s noble strife
They levelled bunkers and they piled the hay,
Content to go uncaddied all through life,
And never were two up and one to play!
No further seek their hardships to disclose,
Nor stand in wonder at their lack of worth;
Here in these bunkers let their dust repose;
They didn’t know St. Andrews’ was on earth.
In the poem Taylor, Travis and Harriman were three famous golfers around the turn of the 20th century, J. H. Taylor, Walter J. Travis and Herbert H. Harriman. S.E. Kiser knew his golf and golfers.
See comment below for the original nine stanzas that Kinser parodied.