13 April 2012

National Poetry Month: 13

April is several things besides National Poetry Month, and one of them is the start of the baseball season. Baseball is probably the most favored modern sport among poets; perhaps it is the Arcadian aspects (or maybe I should say the pretense of Arcadia, the remembrance of lush green diamonds open to the sky, rather than today's over-monitored and over-musicked stadiums), or the dailiness of a season that starts in spring and ends in autumn, or the pleasing symmetries of the geometric rules, or the fact that the sport has its moments of triumph but is mostly about more or less graceful defeat; perhaps it is merely the example of other poets who are fans.

Today is the home opener for the San Francisco Giants, so here is a baseball poem, though it's not about the Giants but the Red Sox. Boston was my first team (I was a late-bloomer as a fan, and wasn't interested until I moved to Boston in my 20s, where Red Sox fandom was inescapable), but I have to admit some of their romantic lustre was lost when they finally won the World Series, first in 2004 and then again in 2007. This poem by Donald Hall captures many of the qualities – the ever-fresh hopes of the green fields of spring, shadowed by a sense of a shared past and of time passing – that draw poets to the sport. ("Number nine" was the uniform number of the great hitter Ted Williams, the "Splendid Splinter.")

Old Timers' Day, Fenway Park, 1 May 1982

When the tall puffy
figure wearing number
nine starts
late for the fly ball,
laboring forward
like a lame truckhorse
startled by a garter snake,
– this old fellow
whose body we remember
as sleek and nervous
as a filly's –

and barely catches it
in his glove's
tip, we rise
and applaud weeping:
On a green field
we observe the ruin
of even the bravest
body, as Odysseus
wept to glimpse
among shades the shadow
of Achilles.

– Donald Hall

I took this poem from the collection Hummers, Knucklers, and Slow Curves: Contemporary Baseball Poems, edited by Don Johnson.

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