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Sports and Poetry

So, my two sons and I have a text thread entitled “Men of the House of Lucas,” by which we keep up with each other’s goings on plus have discussions about topics of interest. Yeah, those talks are often about sports, but all three of us enjoy the arts — literature, movies, music, and so on — so those areas come up regularly as well.

More time than you would think, the above subject matters can intersect. Here’s a recent example.

In Ole Miss’s football season opening win over Troy, one of the Rebel touchdowns was scored by Ulysses Bentley IV (what a name). Older son Cooper immediately chimed in on the text line with “Ulysses scoring in battle versus the Trojans of Troy? The odyssey of football season has begun!” Younger son Wesley and I quickly noted our approval of Coop’s reference to “Ulysses,” the classic poem by Sir Alfred, Lord Tennyson. My goodness, that piece ends with wonderfully competitive stanza, “To strive, to seek, to find, but not to yield.”

I added that we should also observe that perhaps OM’s excellent new defensive back Ladarius Tennison (alternate spelling), with his fearless play, brought to mind another Lord Tennyson masterpiece, “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” To wit, an excerpt:

     “Into the valley of death rode the six hundred…

       Theirs not to make reply,

       Theirs not to reason why,

       Theirs but to do and die…”

Hey, that may have come from the pen of an iconic Victorian poet, but it gives the feel of a big Saturday night ball game, right?

After that text exchange, it got me to thinking about other examples of sports and poetry converging. Again, there is actually quite a history of this happening. 

One of the most obvious instances would be Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s timeless “Casey at the Bat,” which tells the story of a baseball game coming down to the final batter, one team’s star player. Thayer’s beginning sets the stage perfectly:

      The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;

       The score stood four to two with but one inning more to play.”

After the first two batters in the ninth are retired, a couple of unlikely players reach base, allowing Casey to come up with two on and the chance to win the game:

     “Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;

       It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;

       It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,

       For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.”

Casey then takes two questionable called strikes, which sends us to the rousing conclusion:

     “The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clinched in hate,

       He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;

       And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,

       And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

       Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,

       The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;

       And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,

       But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.”

Man alive, that is a parable right there.

Early on, my interest in writing took a step forward when, in high school, I read a biography of Grantland Rice, who is still known as the greatest sportswriter in history. Very much a son of the South (and Vanderbilt grad), “Granny” was known for his elegant prose, spirited poetry, and insightful takes. A stroking example would be his description of Notre Dame’s famous 1924 backfield:

     “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley, and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this weekend as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plan below.”

OK, so maybe that passage is not technically a poem, but it is poetic. Yes, and I defy anybody to find something like that on the sports pages today.

So, yes, I fervently believe that sports, poetry, and literature in general can be a wonderful combination. Accordingly, I am glad and blessed that the Men of the House of Lucas can enjoy such a juxtaposition together. 

To close out this discussion, let’s leave it to an entry you’ve all heard in one form or fashion, written into posterity by the great Grantland Rice:

     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!”

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Written by Richard Lucas

Richard Lucas is a native and lifetime resident of Pascagoula. He is a Pascagoula High School graduate and holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Mississippi. In 2017, he retired from Singing River Health System after a 36-year career as Director of Communications. He recently had a ten-year run as a weekly sports columnist for The Mississippi Press.

Richard and his wife Mary Jon, a retired school librarian, have been married for 43 years. They have two sons, Cooper and Wesley, and two dogs, Bea and Lily. The Lucases attend First United Methodist Church in Pascagoula. In retirement, Richard remains active in community affairs, serving on boards and committees such as The United Way of Jackson and George Counties, the Pascagoula Strategic Planning Committee, the Jackson County Historical and Genealogical Society, Pascagoula Main Street, and others.

Richard Lucas may be contacted at [email protected]

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