Much of the golf poetry in this Blog is straight-forward. You read it once, understand what the poet is trying to convey and respond with some kind of thought or emotion . . . or not. For the most part, the best of the golf-poets of the past were entertaining verse-writers who on occasion reflected their feelings for the game poetically.
A few of these poets went beyond verse writing and wrote at what might be described as a higher level. Their poetry requires more careful reading (not necessarily what Blog readers are looking for), but such reading can also be rewarding. One such golf poet is Robert H. K. Browning, a writer, golf magazine editor and golf historian who was active in the first half of the 20th century. His poetry has been included in my last two Posts.
I found Browning’s poem, “St. Andrew’s Law,” sub-titled “(With apologies to Rudyard Kipling)”, in a book called On the Green edited by Samuel .J. Looker, published in 1922. The reason for “apologies” is that the poem is a parody of Kipling’s poem, “Poseidon’s Law.” Both poems include warnings about lying while recognizing the inherent inevitability of stretching the truth, whether in a sailor’s tavern or clubhouse bar. I hope you will take the time to read “St. Andrew’s Law” out-loud . . . to fully enjoy Browning’s humor, his keen understanding of golfers’ foibles and his poetic skills.
St Andrew’s Law
(With apologies to Rudyard Kipling)
When prehistoric swipers sliced, and blamed the sloping tee,
They got so riled, Saint Andrew smiled, and “Blasphemers,” said he,
“Henceforth the lightly made excuse shall give you no resource;
Ye may not win to act or use of falsehood on the course.
“Let Peter judge his fisher folk, whose unexamined scales
Their easy consciences provoke to all-unswallowed tales;
But ye the prickly whin shall test, the bunker shall condemn:
The gods of golfing love to jest–but do not jest with them.
“Ye may not hope with putts untrue to reach the narrow tin,
Nor cozen [bamboozle] of their lawful due the bunker and the whin,
Nor tempt with drives that are not straight the slice-avenging rough,
Nor keep your ‘good’ strokes from the fate of stokes not good enough.
“But since the twisting ball that’s bent before the rising wind
Must always meet its punishment to tell you ye have sinned,
Be yours the frank unwavering eye, the open soul that shrinks
From any though of rotten lie–while ye are on the links.”
About the rugged moorland track on which his course was laid
The cave-man kept the law intact–until his game was played;
But once the last short putt was holed to crown his heart’s desire,
Audaciously mendacious [duplicitous] strolled the cave-man to his fire.
The prehistoric head of flint adorns our clubs no more,
But still the new clubs drive a-squint, exactly as of yore;
The prehistoric stone is now the radium-centred ball,
But ah ! the prehistoric man has never changed at all.
And driven in by rain or sleet, or by the Evening Star,
He moistly occupies his seat beside the clubhouse bar
And as or yore around Stonehenge, when golf was in its youth,
The swiper takes his great revenge upon the gods of truth.
If you have the time, you might find it interesting to look at Kipling’s poem and see just how Browning went about transforming a poem about sailors to one about swipers. And here is a website for help in understanding Kipling’s lines. But don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz.