Featured Poem: ‘Tis So Much Joy by Emily Dickinson

England is, it seems, a confirmed nation of sporting enthusiasts (along with Scotland, Wales and Ireland, both Northern and the Republic of). Personal alliances put aside, collective spirit is cultivated through being part of the ‘Barmy Army’ in whichever sport is of your choosing – though I’m not too sure that nickname is applicable to slightly more genteel pursuits such as golf and bowls. The summer months always bring with them a range of sporting events and it’s when most of us who wish to partake in some sporting activity feel most up to doing so, as long as rain doesn’t stop play. Of course this year the mania has been ramped up considerably due to that little heard-of contest called the World Cup; it feels like those in the know (as well as those not so much) have been discussing The Three Lions’ chances and obsessing over team selection for years, not months or weeks. For someone who appears to be in the minority – that is, definitely not a sporting enthusiast – it’s all just a tad annoying. With kick off fast approaching, footie hype is reaching fever pitch (two football puns in one sentence – I don’t know if I should feel proud or slightly ashamed of myself) and quite frankly, it makes me want to equip myself with enough reading material to last me through the tournament and go hide under a rock, or preferably somewhere more comfortable. I’m afraid all patriotism seems to fly out of the window when it comes to me and football, and almost everything about the World Cup is irritating to me. At least I can be thankful there doesn’t seem to be much focus on the woefully named ‘WAGs’ and their handbags this time around.

It does make me feel something of an outsider, when England flags are draped from houses and attached to car windows and my sense of excitement fails to be roused. Perhaps my interest would be piqued if Fabio Capello or whoever is in charge of off-the-field activities would take a leaf – literally – out of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club’s book. They have appointed their first poet-in-residence to cover the serves and volleys (as well as everything in-between) of Wimbledon 2010. Matt Harvey is the one to take on the honour, as those at Wimbledon have formed a partnership with The Poetry Trust. I’m not necessarily a fan, but I have always preferred watching Wimbledon over any other sporting tournament; maybe it has something to do with copious amounts of strawberries and cream. It’s good to hear about its linking to poetry, and if it seems perhaps a little strange at first it does appear rather fitting. Sure, Wimbledon is a quintessentially British sport and it’s nice to conjure up images of spectators lazing with a punnet in one hand and a poetry book in the other between sets but it certainly has its fair share of passion – and competitive aggression – on court too, especially in recent years. And poetry is about passion, detailing it and sparking it off too. You need only to take a passing glance at the World Cup hullabaloo to notice that football has passion in abundance, so why not get some poetry into the beautiful game?

The links between poetry and sport have existed for a long time, whether they be odes to leisurely pursuits enjoyed on a sunny day or the more powerful, and at times rather bleak, pieces that describe the battlegrounds of the sporting arena. In many poems published in the era of war, various sports were used as a metaphor for the fighting fields – and some would say as propaganda – to prepare young men for the struggles they would face, to steel them physically and mentally and to stir their emotions towards pride and victory. Instead of heading in that direction, I’m focusing instead on something that is infinitely crucial to our advance in any competition – hope. Unwavering, against-all-the-odds hope. What I’d prefer to call blind and just-a-touch deluded hope given that our sporting glories, in football at least, are about as few and far between as our victories in the Eurovision Song Contest (although I’ll admit, I don’t think we’ll quite be at the bottom of the league in the World Cup tables, unlike Eurovision). This poem by Emily Dickinson is fittingly inspiring, and good for looking on the brighter side if things don’t go quite to plan on the pitch; the players can always take some positive from the words ‘And if indeed I fail/At least, to know the worst is sweet!/Defeat means nothing but Defeat/No drearier, can befall!’. I shall just sidestep the fact that Miss Dickinson is American, the nationality of our first opponents…I do not accept any responsibility if we are defeated by the US of A (or maybe I subconsciously want to sway the matter…)

‘Tis So Much Joy

‘Tis so much joy! ‘Tis so much joy!
If I should fail, what poverty!
And yet, as poor as I,
Have ventured all upon a throw!
Have gained! Yes! Hesitated so—
This side the Victory!

Life is but Life! And Death, but Death!
Bliss is, but Bliss, and Breath but Breath!
And if indeed I fail,
At least, to know the worst, is sweet!
Defeat means nothing but Defeat,
No drearier, can befall!

And if I gain! Oh Gun at Sea!
Oh Bells, that in the Steeples be!
At first, repeat it slow!
For Heaven is a different thing,
Conjectured, and waked sudden in—
And might extinguish me!

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

0 thoughts on “Featured Poem: ‘Tis So Much Joy by Emily Dickinson”

  1. Oh yippee, I’m in the midst of an Arthurian adventure with all the fluttering flags passing me by – both contra-flow and overtake-flow (on British roads), occasionally I spy a flutterer fall to the ground unable, sadly to ride the sallies of the good British weather. Oh everything is looking so knightly!

    Ok at this moment I may admit allegiance to Arthurian knightly excellence but, nevertheless, my heart also beats along and thrives to the narrative nuance of Don Quixote’s knights errant. I’m all for the squat Pancho actually, he recognises (eventually) the futility of excellence and chivalry.

    So for all those who ride on their steeds with colours flying pertly – good luck – I’ll be reading something that at least takes away the pain of riding upon a ‘Rocinante’ or a donkey (yes, sorry I may be alluding to Englands chances). Of course if it were Scotland (who battle bravely yet get nowhere fast – like plunging down an byss) I would, of course, battle on like Don Quixote himself – but it isn’t so I’m spared the humiliation of mistaking a few windmills.

    And, of course, I will now be reading the above poem seriously and in earnest, I just could not resist a few knightly preambles.

  2. Tomorrow the world cup and i am quite pleased that it is actually beginning so the country for a few hours may forget their usual worries and hope that this could be our year, well we can dream although I have an A* in being an insomniac and a degreee in worrying , .
    I love watching football as i get really excited when we score but i also think it is funny that my DAD and me decide we are footbal experts and scream ****** at the T.V totally convinced we can do better ., and my mum decides to dust the screen just as a penalty is about to be taken!! THe poem shows the hope we have at the begining of the tournament and that can never be taken away from us evan if we fail dismally.
    I may go to town and buy some cushions to hide under for the unevitable penalty shootout and just maybe the ball will actually go in!!!!!!

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