Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer was the original choice for the month. I enjoyed the story, and thought it appropriate for August. I had more than two weeks off from work which would give me ample time to memorize. We were “go” on this plan.
Then I started to actually attempt to memorize it. The problems began. This month, I learned that if I am going to spend a month committing a poem to memory, it better be one I like. The more time I spent with this poem, the less I liked it.
First of all, it has way too many names.
From the first stanza:
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
From the third stanza:
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
I knew ahead of time that those names would cause me trouble in the far future. “Was it Barrows who died at first? Cooney? Who died first?” I could hear my future self wondering.
Secondly, the more time I spent with this poem the less enchanted I grew with the writing. Last month, memorizing The New Colossus gave me a greater love of the poem. By committing the words to memory, the jerky motion of the poem on paper smoothed right out. Not so for this poem. Four stanzas in, I realized this poem’s choices of words were not something I loved. The rhyme scheme really reaches in places too:
The second stanza
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
I was initially confused about who exactly the straggling few were. Because the first stanza discusses the lineup, I thought that the straggling few were players coming to bat. But eventually it became clear to me that it was the fans who were getting up and wandering off.
AND. I found Thayer’s use of the word “and” a bit too much:
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
And appears four times in this stanza. It was too much for me. Ernest, could you have rewritten this a bit?
After slogging through those four stanzas we get to one I really like, as I feel it nicely captures a turning point in the game:
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
That is as far as I got with this poem. The other problem was the more than two weeks off. I had not realized it, but I do most of my memorizing on the commute to or from work. On days I take the Max I work on a few lines while walking to the Max stop, on days I ride my bike I’ve got 25 good minutes of memorizing time. With all the time off from work, there was no built in time to commit poetry to memory.
Mid-month I gave up on Casey. Instead, I substituted an Emily Dickinson poem that I had recently encountered:
This quiet dust was gentlemen and ladies
And lads and girls;
Was laughter and ability and sighing,
And frocks and curls;
This passive place a summer’s nimble mansion,
Where bloom and bees
Fulfilled their oriental circuit,
Then ceased like these.
This poem was committed to memory happily.