How Hiawatha Won the Cup

If you ask me, oh, my children
Whence this legend and tradition,
Whence this most astounding story,
Whence this tale of tennis playing?
I would answer, I would tell you:
It was written by a poet,
Who supports an aged landlord,
And a flock of hungry tradesmen,
Not to mention tax collectors,
Gass and water-rate collectors,
Who keep dancing on his doorstep.

So in his suburban attic
He must grind out comic copy!
With his comrade, Hubert Leslie,
Working at the illustrations,
Till their book is on the market,
Selling by the hundred thousand;
Then the vultures are contented
– For the time they are contented –
And the wolves forego their howling
– For a time forego their howling.

When the days were getting longer,
When the nights were getting shorter,
In an ocean-going steamer,
Hiawatha came to London;
Came to try our British pastimes;
Spent a weekend up in Scotland
Slaughtering that Capercalzie.
Found the sport was not exciting,
Asked if he might stalk a beater,
Or bring down a brace of bullocks
Who were feeding in the open.
But his host, Sir Angus Bangus,
Said he couldna’ jist allow it,
Said it was unprecedented.

Then the noble Hiawatha
Tried his hand at motor cycling;
Found there was a spice of danger
When you sped beyond the limit.
Killed a dog and maimed a woman,
Telescoped a fat police man;
Made a whole in his resources;
So he scrapped the motor-cycle.
Then he tried a game of croquet;
Found he could not keep his temper.
Mild-eyed men and mildewed maidens
Used his ball for their advancement,
Used his ball, then left it stranded,
Just behind some wiry cresent,
While he sat and watched them winning,
Sat and plotted their destruction.

Then the noble Hiawatha
Bought some clubs and started golfing,
Bought a dozen balls and lost ‘em,
Bought them back a little later
From te keen-eyed caddie master;
Broke the club and started swearing,
Using words of awful import,
Till the sympathising caddie
Said, “Oh! man, ye’ve got the language!
All yer wantin’ now is practice!”
But the much disgruntled golfer
Said “The game is too expensive;
Strange that it should come from Scotland.”

Then, at last, he tried lawn tennis,
Took to it like duck to water,
Got some tips from drownsy Dixon
(This the tale they tell of Dixon,
How he dreamt that Doust had smacked a
Volley at him in the doubles
And awoke in time to take it!)
Night and day our hero practiced,
Till he got so very perfect
That he entered for the singles!
Oh to tell – if space permitted –
How he met the noble “Marvo,”
How he drove him to the base line,
Till the ever graceful Grecian
Lost that look of gay contentment
Often found upon his features.
How he kept McLoughlin busy
Till the “Comet” said, “Say, fellers,
Take me to ma home in ‘Frisco.
On the slope, I’m still some pumpkins.”

How he made Decugis murmur:
“Nom d’un nom! C’est un debacle!”
Even when he met the holder,
Wilding, the New Zealand wonder;
Even wildling met his master
In this copper-coloured blizzard,
And succumbed-still grimly smiling
To the skill of Hiawatha.
Then the war-cry of the Shawnees
Rang out o’er the field of battle:
“Let ‘em all come on together!
All the men and women warriors,
Heroes of the past and present.
I will beat them! – I have said it!”
Forth they cam! A splendid army:
Mrs. Larcombe, Ladies’ Champion;
Mrs. Hillyard, six times champion;
Mrs. Chambers, five times champion;
Mrs. Sterry, four times champion;
Parke, who brought the cup of Davis
From the sun-browned courts of Sydney;
Thomas, champion of the Chessboard;
Gaintlett, Rahe, the Lowes, the Powells;
Doust, the Cornstalks’ stalwart smither;
Germot, Kleinschroth, and Caridia,
All come striding forth to battle.
Oh, to have old Homer’s stylo,
That I might describe the battle:
How they tripped on one another,
How the air was filled with clamour:
“Your ball!” “My ball!” “Take it!” “Leave it!”
Never was there such confusion:
Smiting wildly, all together,
Till the noble Hiawatha
Once more was proclaimed the victor!

This is all my gentle reader,
That the Poet has to tell you;
For I hear sweet voices calling,
“Daddy! Leslie! tea is ready!”
And te weary wings of Fancy
Fold themselves until to-morrow.
So I know not if the Redskin
Ought again his Reservation,
There to teach the game of tennis
To the squaws and the papooses:
All I know is – “Tea is ready!”

Prose, Poems & Parodies of Percy French, 1980, Helicon Limited, Dublin.


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The 16th Percy French Festival

Our Great Disconnect

17th, 18th, 19th July 2024

At Castlecoote House

The Percy French Festival 2024 acknowledges the major support of Excel Industries; Whyte’s; CastleAcre; C&F Quadrant Ltd; Davies Group; Hidden Ireland.

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