Sunday, February 18, 2018

Ode to Sport / Pierre de Coubertin (1)

Ode to Sport


O Sport, pleasure of the Gods, essence of life, you appeared suddenly in the midst of the grey clearing which writhes with the drudgery of modern existence, like the radiant messenger of a past age, when mankind still smiled. And the glimmer of dawn lit up the mountain tops and flecks of light dotted the ground in the gloomy forests.


O Sport, you are Beauty! You are the architect of that edifice which is the human body and which can become abject or sublime according to whether it is defiled by vile passions or improved through healthy exertion. There can be no beauty without balance and proportion, and you are the peerless master of both, for you create harmony, you give movements rhythm, you make strength graceful and you endow suppleness with power.


O Sport, you are Justice! The perfect equity for which men strive in vain in their social institutions is your constant companion. No one can jump a centimetre higher than the height he can jump, nor run a minute longer than the length he can run. The limits of his success are determined solely by his own physical and moral strength.


O Sport, you are Audacity! The meaning of all muscular effort can be summed up in the word ‘dare’. What good are muscles, what is the point of feeling strong and agile, and why work to improve one’s agility and strength, unless it is in order to dare? But the daring you inspire has nothing in common with the adventurer’s recklessness in staking everything on chance. Yours is a prudent, well-considered audacity.

(continued ...)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Ode to Sport / Pierre de Coubertin (2)

O Sport, you are Honour! The laurels you bestow have no value unless they have been won in absolute fairness and with perfect impartiality. He who, with some shameful trick, manages to deceive his fellow competitors feels guilt to his very core and lives in fear of the ignominious epithet which shall forever be attached to his name should his trickery be discovered.


O Sport, you are Joy! At your behest, flesh dances and eyes smile; blood races abundantly through the arteries. Thoughts stretch out on a brighter, clearer horizon. To the sorrowful you can even bring salutary diversion from their distress, whilst the happy you enable fully to savour their joy of living.


 O Sport, you are Fecundity! You strive directly and nobly towards perfection of the race, destroying unhealthy seed and correcting the flaws which threaten its essential purity. And you fill the athlete with a desire to see his sons grow up agile and strong around him to take his place in the arena and, in their turn, carry off the most glorious trophies.


O Sport, you are Progress! To serve you, a man must improve himself both physically and spiritually. You force him to abide by a greater discipline; you demand that he avoid all excess. You teach him wise rules which allow him to exert himself with the maximum of intensity without compromising his good health.


O Sport, you are Peace! You promote happy relations between peoples, bringing them together in their shared devotion to a strength which is controlled, organized and self-disciplined. From you, the young worldwide learn self-respect, and thus the diversity of national qualities becomes the source of a generous and friendly rivalry.

Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) 
as "Georges Hohrod & M. Eschbach"
Paris Olympics, 1912 

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada, the United States, and the European Union]

Pierre de Coubertin biography

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Because, one night, my soul reached out /
Govinda Krishna Chettur


Because, one night, my soul reached out and found
Yours, in the dim and visionary maze
Of dreams, and Love upon the starry ways:
Because, when, with heart bleeding and eyes bound,
I stumbled to your feet, you raised and crowned
My sorrowing with tears and tender praise:
Because, sometimes men dream of perfect days,
With Death's encircling arms about them wound:
Because of this, because of all of this,
Am I for ever dreaming of sweet hours,
As flowers dream anight of the wind's kiss:
For ever fashioning to Love's demands
This passionate joy, this wonder that is ours,
I that have yearned for the least touch of your hands.

Govinda Krishna Chettur (1898-1936)
from The Triumph of Love: A sonnet sequence, 1932

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada and the European Union]

Govinda Krishna Chettur biography

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Song of the Ski / Wilson MacDonald

The Song of the Ski

Norse am I when the first snow falls;
Norse am I till the ice departs.
The fare for which my spirit calls
Is blood from a hundred viking-hearts.
The curved wind wraps me like a cloak;
The pines blow out their ghostly smoke.
I'm high on the hill and ready to go —
A wingless bird in a world of snow:
Yet I'll ride the air
With a dauntless dare
That only a child of the north can know.

The bravest ski has a cautious heart
And moves like a tortoise at the start,
But when it tastes the tang of the air
It leaps away like a frightened hare.
The day is gloomy, the curtains half-drawn,
And light is stunted as at the dawn:
But my foot is sure and my arm is brawn.

I poise on the hill and I wave adieu:
(My curving skis are firm and true)
The slim wood quickens, the air takes fire
And sings to me like a gypsy's lyre.
Swifter and swifter grows my flight:
The dark pines ease the unending white.
The lean, cold birches, as I go by,
Are like blurred etchings against the sky.
One am I for a moment's joy
With the falling star and the plunging bird.
The world is swift as an Arab boy;
The world is sweet as a woman's word.
Never came such a pure delight.
To a bacchanal or a sybarite:
Swifter and swifter grows my flight,
And glad am I, as I near the leap,
That the snow is fresh and the banks are deep.

Swifter and swifter on I fare,
And soon I'll float with the birds on air.
The speed is blinding; I'm over the ridge,
Spanning space on a phantom bridge.
The drifts await me; I float, I fall:
The world leaps up like a lunging carp.
I land erect and the tired winds drawl
A lazy rune on a broken harp.

Child of the roofless world am I;
Not of those hibernating drones
Who fear the gray of a wintry sky
And the shrieking wind's ironic tones,
Who shuffle cards in a cloud of smoke
Or crawl like frozen flies at chess,
Or gossip all day with meddling folk
In collar of starch and a choking dress.

Come, ye maids of the vanity-box,
Come, ye men of the stifling air:
The white wind waits at your door and knocks;
The white snow calls you everywhere.
Come, ye lads of the lounge and chair,
And gird your feet with the valiant skis
And mount the steed of the winter air
And hold the reins of the winter breeze.

Lord of the mountains dark with pine!
Lord of the fields of smoking snow!
Grant to this vagrant heart of mine
A patch of wood where my feet may go,
And a roofless world to my journey's end,
And a cask of wind for my cup of wine,
And yellow gold of the sun to spend,
And at night the stars in endless line,
And, after it all, the hand of a friend —
The hand of a trusted friend in mine.

Wilson MacDonald (1880-1967)
from Out of the Wilderness, 1926

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]

Wilson MacDonald biography

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Twice a week the winter thorough / A.E. Housman


Twice a week the winter thorough
    Here stood I to keep the goal:
Football then was fighting sorrow
    For the young man's soul.

Now in May time to the wicket
    Out I march with bat and pad:
See the son of grief at cricket
    Trying to be glad.

Try I will; no harm in trying:
    Wonder 'tis how little mirth
Keeps the bones of man from lying
    On the bed of earth.

A.E. Housman (1859-1936)
from A Shropshire Lad, 1896

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada, the United States, and the European Union]

A.E. Housman biography

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Winter Night / John Reed

Winter Night

High hangs the hollow, ringing shield of heaven,
Embossed with stars. The thin air wounds like steel,
Stark and resilient as a Spanish blade.
Sharp snaps the rigid lake's mysterious ice,
And the prim, starchy twigs of naked trees
Crackle metallic in an unfelt wind.
A light-poised Damoclean scimitar
The faintly-damascened pale moon. Benumbed
Shrinks the racked earth griped in the hand of Cold.
O hark! Swift, anvil-ringing iron hoofs
Drum down the boreal interstellar space:
The Blue Knight rides, spurring his snorting stallion
Out of the dark side of the frozen moon —
Eyes crueller than a beryl-sheathed crevasse,
Breath like the chilly fog of polar seas,
Glaciers for armor on his breast and thighs,
A polished Alp for helmet, and for plume
The league-long Northern Lights behind him floating,
Wave on wave of prismatic blazoning,
Glorious up the sky!
                                       The Blue Knight rides
With his moon-shimmering, star-tipped lance at rest, —
Drives at the world — Crash ! and the brittle globe
Bursts like a crystal goblet, — shivering, falling, —
Shivers, splinters brustling, tinkling, jarring,
Jingling in fading dissonance down the void —
Jangling down the unplumbed void forever.  .  .  .

John Reed (1887-1920),  1906
from Tamberlaine, and other verses, 1917

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada, the United States, and the European Union]

John Reed biography

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Waking in Winter / Sylvia Plath

Waking in Winter

I can taste the tin of the sky – the real tin thing.
Winter dawn is the color of metal,
The trees stiffen into place like burnt nerves.
All night I have dreamed of destruction, annihilations – An assembly-line of cut throats, and you and I
Inching off in the gray Chevrolet, drinking the green
Poison of stilled lawns, the little clapboard gravestones,
Noiseless, on rubber wheels, on the way to the sea resort.

How the balconies echoed! How the sun lit up
The skulls, the unbuckled bones facing the view!
Space! Space! The bed linen was giving out entirely.
Cot legs melted in terrible attitudes, and the nurses –
Each nurse patched her soul to a wound and disappeared.
The deathly guests had not been satisfied
With the rooms, or the smiles, or the beautiful rubber plants,
Or the sea, Hushing their peeled sense like Old Mother Morphia.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

[Poem is in the public domain in Canada]