Poetry: Serious. Not That Serious.

03 August 2012 on Blog, Poetry: Serious. Not That Serious.   Tags:

Olympics 2012 Edition

You can't help but be patriotic during Olympic season. My liberal (re: socialist) roommates and I have given ourselves three weeks to unabashedly hope for the failure of other nations and the gold-winning, ass-kicking success of our own. Personally, the Olympic Effect has inspired me on two levels: aspiring towards greatness generally (you know, good old-fashioned American potential fulfillment), and reaching new, shocking heights of athleticism. I've been to the gym not 1, not 2, but THREE times this week! Read ”˜em and weep, folks. With this in mind, I've chosen gold, silver, and bronze “pump-up” and/or athletically-oriented poems to keep you in the medaling spirit!

1. GOLD: A.E. Housman's TO AN ATHLETE DYING YOUNG: The hardest part of watching super gymnast (and world champion) Jordyn Weiber lose her hopes of winning a 2012 individual gold medal is realizing she will never have a chance again. She is 17 years old, and by the next summer Olympics will be 21. That's geriatric zone for top level gymnasts.  I turn your attention to Housman's TO AN ATHLETE DYING YOUNG. This poem is about a young champion's untimely death. His victories will not fade, we will not see his strength weaken with age. He will go out at the apex of his glory, not in a slow dwindle. These lines are especially affecting:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

While Jordyn certainly did not die, she will not have a chance to go for Olympic gold again—you could say that's a kind of death for someone who has devoted her life to the mat, the beam, the bar, since she could walk. The same is true for the other champions on our women's team. The younger, the lither and the stronger are coming up behind them for Olympics 2016. But, in a way, that's a beautiful thing. We will not watch these girls sapped of their power as they grow older, becoming more and more pathetic in comparison to their previous honors. Their names will live forever as the Fab Five, at the top of their game, in their prime. Plus, they've got those merchandising deals to look forward to.

2. SILVER: W.H. Auden's MARCH WINDS

Three weeks ago they came, leaping over
The hills and sowing the glittering rains.
Now they have passed and none know whence they go;
We who are left behind, we only see
This English Spring is lovelier than we
Remembered it; only know a thing has
Touched us we are too small to understand.

Since I see all things as being Olympics-related these days, I like to think “they” in this poem refers to Olympic athletes. The poem even mentions the English, for bonus points. And, finally, MARCH WINDS effectively conveys the feeling we get watching Ryan Lochte set a world record in the 200M—the feeling that we have witnessed something so far above the “normal” setting, it's impossible to fully understand. “We who are left behind” can only wonder what it's like to follow a commitment to the very limit, to be the best in the world at a particular feat.

3. BRONZE: Marianne Moore's I MAY, I MIGHT, I MUST

If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.

I like to think this is the affirmation all my favorite Olympians are muttering to themselves as they take the court, track, pool, or field. This poem's got some fight to it, some defiance. It's spunky. Tell me I can't and I will, if you will. A great ditty for us non-members of the Olympic pantheon to hum, too. Against all odds. Through all obstacles. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

--Lucy Hitz

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