Some readers may remember this poem by Ernest Thayer from an old Disney cartoon–or maybe have heard it referenced or parodied in one of a thousand other places, as it is simply the most popular baseball poem ever written. (Not that all that many poems have been written about baseball.) It is written in iambic heptameter, an ideal form for telling a story in poem, as it allows for longer phrases and more variation than tetrameter or pentameter. It is also an excellent example of metrical construction, in that it requires no particular effort from the reader to generate the rhythm: the rhythm is the product of natural speech, supporting rather than distracting from a story that might be told [less effectively] in prose.
It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood two to four, with but an inning left to play,
So, when Cooney died at second, and Burrows did the same,
A pallor wreathed the features of the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go, leaving there the rest,
With that hope that springs eternal within the human breast.
For they thought: “If only Casey would get a whack at that,”
They’d put even money now if Casey were at bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, and likewise so did Blake,
And the former was a pudd’n, and the later was a fake.
So on that stricken multitude a deathlike silence sat;
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all.
And the much despised Blakey tore the cover off the ball.
And when the dust had lifted, and they saw what had occurred,
There was Blakey safe at second, and Flynn a-huggin’ third.
Then from the gladdened multitude went up a joyous yell—
It rumbled in the mountaintops, it rattled in the dell;
It struck upon the hillside and rebounded on the flat;
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place,
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face;
And when responding to the cheers he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt,
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then when the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance glared in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped;
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm waves on the stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult, he made the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”
“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and the echo answered “Fraud!”
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed;
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let the ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey’s lips, his teeth are clenched in hate.
He pounds with cruel vengeance 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 favored 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.
Patty-cake, patty-cake, Marcus Antonius, What do you think of the African Queen? Gubernatorial Duties require my Presence in Egypt. Ya Know what I mean? -Paul Pascal Today we take a look at another comic form, the double-dactyl (or Higgledy-Piggledy) poem. Developed in 1961 by poets Paul Pascal, Anthony Hecht, and John Hollander, the double-dactyl is one of the most specific verse forms, in terms of its rules: it is composed of two quatrains, each built of three lines of dactylic dimeter ( / - - / - - ) followed by a choriamb ( / - - / ); the final syllables in each quatrain rhyme; the first line is repetitive nonsense (commonly “Higgledy-Piggledy), the second line is the poem’s subject (typically a proper name), and at least one line in the second quatrain has to be composed of a single word (and one that the poet has never seen before in another double-dactyl poem, for that would be cheating). Higgledy-piggledy Emily Dickenson Liked to use dashes Instead of full stops. Nowadays, faced with such Idiosyncrasy, Critics and editors Send for the cops. -Wendy Cope To a novice, this may seem needlessly difficult—but the rigidity and challenge of the verse structure is actually a kind of literary game: can the poet contrive a sensible description of the subject within such constraints? Meanwhile the 3-beat meter creates a lively rhythm, and the single-word line a surprise that can serve as a second punch-line all by itself: Higgledy-piggledy Heyerdahl Heyerdahl Gained notoriety Sailing his raft. Some now believe that this Septagenarian's Anthropological Theories are daft. -Robin Pemantle Higgeldy Piggeldy Sergei Rachmaninov Wrote his concertos for Handspans like wings. Few realistically Can pianistically Digitalistically Play the damned things. -Robert Mink Polysyllabic rhymes are not required in this verse form, but if the poet can throw them in, all the better, as they naturally add to the humor. W.S. Gilbert knew this all too well, and frequently featured them in the comic operas he wrote. Speaking of which— Higgeldy-Piggeldy Gilbert & Sullivan, Musical satirists, Hardly sublime, Unhesitatingly Would have approved of their Names being used in this Ludicrous rhyme. -Robin Pemantle You can read more of Robin Pemantle’s Higgledy-Piggledy at http://www.math.wisc.edu/~robbin/Higgeldy.txt. As with any comic form, some audiences will laugh and others won’t; and comic verse is no different. And the audience for it may be small: the jokes rather depend upon people recognizing the historical personages named in the poems. Here are a few by Roger Robinson, who’s written a host of verses featuring classical subjects (read more of his work at http://lonestar.texas.net/~robison/dactyls.html): Higgledy-Piggledy Philip of Macedon Formed up the phalanx and Harried the Greeks; Murdered, he missed out on Mesopotamia, So it’s his son of whom All the world speaks. Higgledy-Piggledy Pitiful Tantalus Stole food and drink from the Table of Zeus; So, he was punished with Juxtapositional Torture of sustenance Just beyond use. Higgledy-Piggledy Tyrian purple, a Highly-prized dyestuff in Ancient world times, Came from a mollusk, the Mediterranean Murex (M. trunculus) Made crimson lines. And finally, one more classical subject, completed with a pun (this one is by Joan Muncaksi): Higgledy-piggledy Oedipus Tyrannos Murdered his father, used Mama for sex. This mad debauch, not so Incomprehensibly, Left poor Jocasta and Oedipus Wrecks.
Faithless Nelly Gray
A Pathetic Ballad by Thomas Hood
Ben Battle was a soldier bold,
And used to war’s alarms;
But a cannon-ball took off his legs,
So he laid down his arms.
Now as they bore him off the field,
Said he, ‘Let others shoot;
For here I leave my second leg,
And the Forty-second Foot.’
The army-surgeons made him limbs:
Said he, ‘They’re only pegs;
But there’s as wooden members quite,
As represent my legs.’
Now Ben he loved a pretty maid, —
Her name was Nelly Gray;
So he went to pay her his devours,
When he devoured his pay.
But when he called on Nelly Gray,
She made him quite a scoff;
And when she saw his wooden legs,
Began to take them off.
‘O Nelly Gray! O Nelly Gray!’
Is this your love so warm?
The love that loves a scarlet coat
Should be a little more uniform.
Said she, ‘ I loved a soldier once,
For he was blithe and brave;
But I will never have a man
With both legs in the grave
‘Before you had those timber toes
Your love I did allow;
But then, you know, you stand upon
Another footing now.’
‘O Nelly Gray! O Nelly Gray!
For all your jeering speeches,
At duty’s call I left my legs
In Badajos’s breaches.’
‘Why, then,’ said she, ‘you’ve lost the feet
Of legs in war’s alarms,
And now you cannot wear your shoes
Upon your feats of arms!’
‘O false and fickle Nelly Gray!
I know why you refuse:
Though I’ve no feet, some other man
Is standing in my shoes.
‘I wish I ne’er had seen your face;
But, now, a long farewell!
For you will be my death’ — alas!
You will not be my Nell!’
Now when he went from Nelly Gray
His heart so heavy got,
And life was such a burden grown,
It made him take a knot.
So round his melancholy neck
A rope he did intwine,
And, for his second time in life,
Enlisted in the Line.
One end he tied around a beam,
And then removed his pegs;
And, as his legs were off — of course
He soon was off his legs.
And there he hung till he was dead
As any nail in town;
For, though distress had cut him up,
It could not cut him down.
A dozen men sat on his corpse,
To find out why he died, —
And they buried Ben in four cross-roads
With a stake in his inside.
Today we get a little light verse. Poetry doesn’t have to always be noble sentiment and visionary beauty, after all.
The limerick is a simple comic form, composed in anapestic meter. The first, second, and fifth line each have three beats apiece, and are rhymed together. The third and fourth lines are shorter (only two beats each), and they get their own rhyme. The first foot of any line may be clipped; that is, instead of a full metrical foot, it may be missing the initial unaccented beat: thus an anapestic foot [- – /] may instead only be [- /]. Additionally, the end of a line may feature a feminine rhyme; such an anapestic foot would become [- – / -]. But even with such adjustments, the lines maintain a 3-beat character.
The first two lines in a limerick typically introduce the subject; the next two provide the set-up; and the final line delivers the punchline. The point of the limerick is the punchline–which is commonly “lowbrow” humor. The snobs may dismiss the form for this, and even reject the poetic form as “mere rhyme;” but lovers of traditional English meter will continue to delight in the form. Meanwhile it is an excellent place to start learning how to write poetry, because it develops the metrical skill, and provides an immediate payoff in enjoyment. Anyway, I hope you enjoy these.
Said an envious, erudite ermine,
“There’s one thing I cannot determine:
. When a girl wears my coat,
. She’s a person of note.
When I wear it, I’m called only vermin.”
A young schizophrenic named Struther,
Who learned of the death of his Brother,
. Said, “I know that its bad,
. But I don’t feel too sad.
After all, I still have each other.”
There once was a girl named Irene,
Who lived on distilled kerosene.
. But she started absorbin’
. A new hydrocarbon,
And since then has never benzene!
A bather whose clothing was strewed,
By winds that left her quite nude,
. Saw a man come along,
. And unless we are wrong,
You expected this line to be lewd.
There was a young girl from Rabat,
Who had triplets, Nat, Pat and Tat;
. It was fun in the breeding,
. But hell in the feeding,
When she found she had no tit for Tat.
A limerick fan from Australia
Regarded his work as a failure:
. His verses were fine
. Until the fourth line
Readers, please, post some of your own favorites below.