Rubenstein: Road Trip, Part Two
Published on Thursday, May. 23, 2013 05:13PM EDT Last updated on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012 07:47PM EDT
Shaftsbury, Vermont - I like to inform people that golf's literature is as least as sophisticated as baseball's, and maybe even more so. I cite the “small ball” theory that George Plimpton once proposed. He wrote that “the smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature.”
Plimpton later wrote in a 1992 New York Times essay, “I have found little to suggest that the theory does not still hold. The literature on golf -- by Bernard Darwin, Herbert Warren Wind, Dan Jenkins, Don Marquis, John Updike and P. G. Wodehouse, among others -- suggests that something about the vagaries of the game truly seems to suit the writer, especially the humorist. It was once suggested to me that the permanence of much of golf literature is due to the game itself -- in which the bad shot so surely in the future is conducive to the state of contained melancholy that so often produces first-rate writing (Dostoyevsky's, for instance. Conrad's. Hardy's).”
You won’t be surprised to learn that I agree with Plimpton, which brings me to the place of poetry in the game’s literature, and the place where my wife Nell and I spent an enlightening hour one fine morning this week. We alighted at the stone house where Robert Frost lived in Vermont from 1920-1929. It’s now a museum.
Little did we know that here we would find the very room in which Frost wrote his famous poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Frost wrote the poem in a fever of creativity — he was no stranger to such an experience, of course — on a hot June morning. Further, I had no idea that I’d find a parody of the poem — it must be one of the most-parodied famous poems — and that the subject was golf.
I stopped in my tracks on a sunny morning when I came across the parody that one Jim Corbett had written, and I took it down. Here it is, for your reading pleasure. Even better, visit the lovely home yourself sometime. http://www.frostfriends.org/.
Stopping by Woods on a Sunny Afternoon (with apologies to Robert Frost, by Jim Corbett)
Whose woods these are I think I know
But I have sliced my drive and so
I hope he doesn’t mind me hacking down
These trees, some more will grow
My little caddie thinks it strange
That I’m not at the driving range
So many things in self and swing
That I have yet to fix and change.
He gives my bag of clubs a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
(He does that every time
He sees the club I reach to take)
It’s true that I’m an old golf nut
And my wife thinks I’m a horse’s butt.
But she’s at home, and I’m out here
With miles to go before I putt
And miles to go before I putt.
There you have it. And while I’m at it, I might commend a book that Dr. Leon White, a lover of golf and poetry, and a fellow who has taught at the Massachusetts of Technology, wrote last year. It’s called Golf Course of Rhymes: Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. He arranged his book in chapters one through 18, and his ninth hole chapter includes poems called “Clerihews,” for a fellow who invented a type of poem that is a four-line verse in which the first two and the last two lines rhyme.
Dr. White wrote a poem about woods, as did Frost. Well, his was about Tiger Woods, and it’s a clerihew, in which the opening line just begin or end with the subject’s name. To White’s clerihew, then.
About Tiger Woods
It’s now understood
To be close to redic’lous
That he won’t top Jack Nicklaus.
When I started writing 35 years ago, I referred to a golf swing as “poetry in motion.” This was for a long-gone Canadian magazine. The editor scrawled in the margins of my draft, “No, no, no.” He was right, right, right. I had succumbed to a cliché, and he would have no part of it.
But golf can at least lead to poetry. I might even imagine that Frost, who liked sports and said he might have been a baseball player if he weren’t a poet, would himself write a golf poem today.
Call it “Stopping by [Tiger] Woods on a Sunny Morning,” to watch a most interesting golfer make some swings. I wonder what Frost would write.
Ah, the joys of road trips, and the surprises along the way.
RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein