In the world’s greatest game of tennis
Which from pole to pole is seen,
Let love be the point of starting,
Faults be few and far between;
Raise no wild unseemly racket
From base lines of life break loose,
Win no underhand advantage,
This the moral we deduce. W. F.
Comerades, leave me here a little,
Leave me on this classic plain,
Let me in historic stanzas
Fight the tournament again.
‘Tis the place and all around it
As of old the cabmen swear
When colliding at the corners
Leading to Fitzwilliam Square.
Let me hymn those mighty heroes,
Let me sing their names resounding
Down the ringing grooves of time.
Here let me recall the combat
In a mighty tide of song;
Leave me here and when you want me
Sound upon the dinner gong.
I myself have played at tennis,
Looked upon myself as fair,
Till I saw the world-wide champions
Battling in Fitzwilliam Square:
Then I saw myself a duffer,
Saw that if I longed for fame
I must choose another pastime,
I must seek another game.
Far in some remoter region
Where men play croquet still,
I will match me with the curate,
I will bend him to my will –
There mid melancholy maidens
I would bear away the palm
Pacing round each wiry crescent
With a meditative calm.
Fool! again the dream, the fancy,
Fancy ‘tis I know full well,
For I hold the tennis duffer
Higher than the croquet swell.
I who once have wielded racquet,
I to join that sorry group,
Pacing on, yet slowly, slowly
Moving on from hoop to hoop.
Not for me the milder pastime,
Tennis is the game I sing,
Better ‘tis to fail at tennis
Than to reign a croquet king.
Here upon a bench I pondered
Nourishing this truth sublime
That good play is naught but practice,
And the long result of time.
Many a time I’ve seen the Renshaws
Rise triumphant from the fray
Like a pair of mighty planets
Shining in the Milky Way:
Often to the white pavilion
Where the sandwiches they munch
Have I seen the lion Lawford
Slowly sloping to his lunch.
In the Spring the city maiden
Comes in latest fashions dressed,
In the Spring the young man’s fancy
Gets himself a brighter vest.
And my spirit leaps before me
To behold the coming scene
With the nation’s tennis players
Grappling in the central green:
There methinks would be enjoyment
More than city life entails
Than the tramways, than the loopline
Or accelerated mails.
For I dipped into the future,
Far as human eye might see,
Saw the vision of the players
And the tennis that would be:
Saw the streamers filled with champions,
Argosies of mighty males
And the rapid night expesses
Slinking down the coast of Wales.
Far along the Menai Tunnel,
Glare of engine rushing fast,
And the funnels of the “Connaught”
Plunging through the thunderblast;
Till her engines throb no longer,
Gangways to the peir are hurled
And along them pour the coming
Wonders of tennis world.
Scenting from afar the battle
Comes each never-failing twin,
Comes the swarthy Lawford smiling –
Ever a sardonic grin:
Daring Dwight the “Boston Bantling”
Whom the “Dusky One” they dub,
Comes again to represent her,
Her the “Universal Hub.”
Se Hibernia’s gloomy cheiftan,
On his brow the gathering frown,
Innisfallen’s sons will cheer thee
In combat, Ernest Browne.
Chatterton, the lengthy, striding
Through the medley of my dream,
Bears aloft the student-standard
From the groves of Acadame.
Chatterton’s a lesser Renshaw
And although a champion bold,
Still his back strokes are to Renshaw’s
As a cough is to a cold.
In this paradise of pleasure
Where the town and country meet,
Lying like a green Atlantis
In the desert of the street.
. . . . . . .
Here the cautios poet pauses
Till the great event is o’er,
For it is not well foretelling
What the future has in store:
Whether Renshaw wins or Lawford,
Or Hibernia’s stalwart knight,
Or some unknown meter flashes
On the worlds astonished sight.
Whosoe’er remains the victor,
This the reader will descry,
When the tournament behind him
As a foughten field shall lie.
. . . . . . .
Great Fitzwilliam Square I leave thee,
Basking in the sunset’s glow,
For a mighty thirst arises
Tending tea-ward and I go.
French, Percy. (1980) ‘Prose, Poems & Parodies.’ Dublin, Helicon Limited