An old poem made new again

April 26, 2012 was National Poem in Your Pocket day. I wasn’t aware of this until I saw something on Facebook about it. After all, that’s what grabs our attention anymore, isn’t it?

I’m not always a follower of this kind of thing, but I wanted to participate in this. It was probably the poetry angle that drew me in. As my first thoughts often lead me to baseball, I wanted to have a copy of Edward L. Thayer’s Casey at the Bat at the ready, to share with whoever I might encounter.

Thayer’s poem has endured since it was first published, under a pseudonym, in 1888. Its fame was spread by an actor named DeWolf Hopper, who basically made his living by reciting this poem in town after town on the live theater circuit. Every time he would perform, people clamored to hear the poem performed dramatically. Having performed it live once myself, I can tell you there’s a lot of fun that can be had with it. Here’s James Earl Jones’ version of it.

Casey tells a great story of optimism and confidence and ultimate letdown. It wouldn’t be the same if Casey had hit the home run to win the game. I think it appeals to us because even the mighty, almost superhuman  Casey is still prone to failure, even with the game on the line and the home crowd on his side. Casey is Goliath, after all, and human nature often pulls us toward David, instead.

I found a copy of Thayer’s Casey in the pages of A.G. Spalding’s America’s National Game. The book was first published in 1911, but I found a 1992 reprint of it in a bookstore many years ago, and have kept it at my desk ever since. It tells of the earliest days of the game’s history through the eyes of a baseball lifer, one whose name appeared on all major league baseballs until the mid-1970s. Rawlings has made the official major league ball since then.

But before I could take the book to the copier, I began perusing some of the other baseball poetry that appears in Spalding’s book. And I found a great poem that I knew I had to carry with me instead of Casey at the Bat.

I Googled the name of the poet–S.D. Richardson–and nothing came up. No Wikipedia entry, or anything else that might identify who he or she was. The initials made me think of J.K. Rowling, and the story of how her initials were used to mask her identity as a woman when the book first came out. The “S.D.” could mean “Stephen Daniel” or “Stephanie Danielle” or a hundred other things. But in the absence of any evidence, all I can do is wonder about the meaning of these initials.

Not only could I not learn anything of the poet’s identity, but I couldn’t find the poem online, either. It seems that when the world started moving onto the internet, shortly after this 1992 reprint of Spalding’s book appeared, Richardson’s poem didn’t make the leap.

And so, the history geek and the baseball nerd that I am is proud to present what might be the first digital rendering of S.D. Richardson’s “Base Ball.”

Base Ball

by S.D. Richardson

‘Tis a glorious game, with a well-earned fame,

A diamond in royal setting;

And its beautiful rays light up our days

From the field with an emerald fretting.

So day after day I am watching the play,

Absorbed in the outings and innings;

Though I risk not a dime, I’m gainer each time,

And the joy that it gives is my winnings.

But sometimes on a day my mind is away

From the game with an idle perusing,

And I think of another so much like the other

That I blend them together in musing:

‘Tis the old game of life, with its conquest and strife,

With its wonderful outings and innings;

Where the umpire of fate forever doth wait

Giving gladness and sorrow for winnings.

There’s the man at the bat, he’s a king on that plat,

And he watches the ball that is fleeting

Till his blow meets the same, and it soars o’er the game

And receives from the people a greeting.

‘Tis the man who doth wait while fortune that’s great,

Changing hands like the shuttle in weaving.

Comes and touches his mace, and he runs every base,

While the people shout “Luck is retrieving!”

See the pitcher, whose aim is surely not tame,

While his curvings are often perplexing;

And the poise of his fist, with the twist of his wrist,

To those running the bases is vexing.

‘Tis the man who in fame hits the mark all the same,

Though he throws a curved ball there to do it;

And the one who would steal a base on his field,

Will have cause to remember and rue it.

And the catcher with nerve that all good might deserve,

And a visor drawn low for the danger;

With a smile by that base that’s as cruel to face

As the blow of a spiteful sky-ranger–

‘Tis the man of strong nerve, whom no terror can swerve,

And who laughs where the peril is thickest;

And he guards the home base ‘gainst the strong in the race,

And outs them with hand that is quickest.

There’s the guard at each base who, alert in his place,

Knows the work and performs it with pleasure;

And the fielders that stand with the game well in hand

And consider high balls but a treasure.

‘Tis the men of each age, who on history’s page

Have written their names with their actions;

Catching fame on the fly, though it comes from the sky,

And ne’er bothered with foolish attractions.

So the old game of life, with its conquest and strife,

Ever moves, with no pause or delaying.

The wise and the great and the foolish with fate

on the field of the great world are playing.

And the games will ne’er close ’till the books shall disclose

All the wonderful outings and innings,

With the sun ‘neath the West and the players at rest,

And the blest with their bountiful winnings.

This poem made the connection between baseball and life, long before any t-shirts ever did. It’s a bit hard to follow in parts, but the first half of the final stanza is just great. I read that part to some colleagues today and they were impressed by it.

National Poem in Your Pocket day was certainly a big success, for myself and for S.D. Richardson. I’m certainly no DeWolf Hopper or James Earl Jones, but if I’m the one to bring this poem into the digital age, then I’ll humbly accept that role. Thanks for reading, as always.

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3 thoughts on “An old poem made new again

  1. Pingback: The Gladness of Nature | Blue Batting Helmet

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