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