Lawrence Ferlinghetti

BASEBALL1  CANTO2



Watching baseball, sitting in the sun, eating popcorn,
reading Ezra Pound3
and wishing that Juan Marichal4 would hit a hole right through the
Anglo-Saxon tradition in the first Canto5
and demolish the barbarian invaders6
When the San Francisco Giants7 take the field
and everybody stands up for the National Anthem8,
with some Irish tenor's9 voice piped over the loudspeakers,
with all the players struck dead in their places
and the white umpires10 like Irish cops11 in their black suits and little
black caps pressed over their hearts,
Standing straight and still like at some funeral of a blarney12 bartender,
and all facing east,
as if expecting some Great White Hope13 or the Founding Fathers14 to
appear on the horizon like 106615 or 177616.

But Willie Mays17 appears instead,
in the bottom of the first18,
and a roar goes up as he clouts the first one into the sun and takes
off, like a footrunner from Thebes19.
The ball is lost in the sun and maidens wail20 after him
as he keeps running through the Anglo-Saxon epic.
And Tito Fuentes21 comes up looking like a bullfighter
in his tight pants and small pointy shoes.
And the right field bleechers22 go made with Chicanos23 and blacks24
and Brooklyn beer-drinkers,
"Tito! Sock it to him, sweet Tito!"
And sweet Tito puts his foot in the bucket25
and smacks one that don't come back at all,
and flees around the bases
like he's escaping from the United Fruit Company26
As the gringo27 dollar beats out the pound
And sweet Tito beats it out like he's beating out usury28
not to mention fascism29 and anti-semitism30.
And Juan Marichal comes up,
and the Chicano bleechers go loco again,
as Juan belts the first ball out of sight,
and rounds first31 and keeps going
and rounds second32 and rounds third33,
and keeps going and hits paydirt34
to the roars of the grungy populace.
As some nut presses the backstage panic button
for the tape-recorded National Anthem again,
to save the situation.

But it don't stop nobody this time,
in their revolution round the loaded white bases,
in this last of the great Anglo-Saxon epics,
in the territorio libre of Baseball35.








Notes

  1. Baseball. A game originating in the United States in the 19th century and played with a bat and ball between two teams of nine players each on a large field having four bases that mark the course a runner must take to score; also : the ball used in this game.   [return to poem]
  2. Canto. An Italian term, derived from the Latin cantus (song), it probably originally indicated a portion of a poem that could be sung or chanted by a minstrel at one sitting. Ferlinghetti is also making a reference to the Cantos of Ezra Pound. This poem is as much about Pound and his influence as it is about the epic nature and forces embedded in the game of baseball.  [return to poem]
  3. Ezra Pound. (October 30, 1885-November 1, 1972). American poet and critic. Born in Hailey, Idaho, in 1885, the son of Homer and Isabel Pound. Ezra ("Ra" or "Ray") was brought up from the age of four in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, where his father was assistant assayer to the United States Mint. His family were old fashioned stock, who had settled in America before the wave of European immigrants. All his life Pound tried to reconstruct a mythical homogeneous America from which he believed he came. This may explain how his later virulent anti-Semitism took root. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied Anglo-Saxon and Romance languages. After graduation, Pound taught at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana (1907). His career was cut short when he was discovered to have entertained an actress in his rooms. Sickened by the small-town mentality, from then on he attacked the American academic system. Pound was very influential in the development of modern poetry and his Cantos have been called a modern epic. Biographical Reference.  [return to poem]
  4. Juan Marichal. American baseball player. Born October 20, 1937 in Laguna Verde, Dominican Republic. Marichal, a right-handed pitcher played Major League Baseball for 16 seasons, 1960-1975, mostly with the San Francisco Giants (1960-1973) in the National League. His Major League debut occurred on July 19, 1960. Career Earned Run Average: 2.89; Career Won-Lost Record: 243-142; Career Strikeouts: 2,303. Marichal was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983. Statistical Reference.   [return to poem]
  5. first Canto. A reference to Ezra Pound's Canto I. This Canto is a translation from Book 11 of Homer's Odyssey. The first canto contains the longest stretch of straight narrative in the entire collection of cantos, namely Homer's story of Odysseus's visit to the underworld to consult with the prophet Tiresias. Canto I is a deliberate confusion or conflation of beginnings and traditions. First Canto Reference   [return to poem]
  6. barbarian invaders. In an April 12, 2000 newspaper interview with the San Francisco Examiner newspaper, conducted while Ferlinghetti was attending the home opener of the San Francisco Giants he made the following comment: "There's a line in 'Baseball Canto' that reads 'Barbarian invaders.' I changed it to 'Barbarian invaders from Los Angeles.' " Quote Reference  [return to poem]
  7. San Francisco Giants. Originally known as the Green Stockings and the Gothams this team started out in New York on the East Coast and joined the National League in 1883. The name "Giants" was originated in 1885 when the team's manager, Jim Mutrie referred to his players as "My boys, my giants." The team relocated to the West Coast in 1958. Giants Home on the World Wide Web.   [return to poem]
  8. National Anthem. The national anthem of the United States is based on a poem originally written by Francis Scott Key while the British were shelling Baltimore's Fort McHenry on the evening of September 13, 1814. Key called his poem, "In Defense of Fort McHenry." The poem was re-titled "The Star-Spangled Banner" and set to music originally written in the 18th century by the Englishman John Smith. Smith's tune was called "Anacreon in Heaven" and it was originally the signature tune of the Anacreon Society. The society, named after an ancient Greek poet best known for his lusty erotic poetry, consisted of a group of men who periodically met in pubs to drink, get drunk, sing songs and wander the streets in search of women. It seems appropriate that this music be played before the start of each baseball game.   [return to poem]
  9. Irish tenor's. Irish tenors are noteworthy for their wonderful voices. See this reference.   [return to poem]
  10. umpires. In a baseball game it is the umpires, sometimes referred to as the "men in blue," who are responsible for applying the rules of the game. The word itself comes from the Middle English word oumpere which is an alteration of noumpere from the Middle French nomper meaning "not equal" or "not paired" (from the Latin non- + per equal). The word "umpire" first appears in the 15th century.   [return to poem]
  11. Irish cops. Half of all persons arrested in New York City in the 1850's were Irish, a considerable "over-representation" of their share in the population. The police found themselves filling police vans with Irishmen so often that the vans were nicknamed "Paddy Wagons," after the "Paddies," i.e. the Irish.[...] The greatest irony is what happened when the Irish eventually found something they excelled at: politics. With political success, Irish politicians filled municipal patronage jobs, like the police and fire departments, with Irishmen. Thus "Paddy Wagons" came to be driven by the Irish, rather than filled with them, and the new stereotype of the Irish policeman began to loom larger than the old ones in everyone's view of the Irish community. Those jobs in fact did not help most of the Irish community. Prosperity for most Irish Americans slowly came from general assimilation and acculturation. Reference   [return to poem]
  12. blarney. Skillful flattery. From the Blarney stone, a stone in Blarney Castle, near Cork, Ireland, held to bestow skill in flattery on those who kiss it (circa 1796). Speaking "blarney" would be a useful skill for a bartender.   [return to poem]
  13. Great White Hope. The context here might suggest William the Conqueror. On the other hand, consider that in the United States white supremicists have contrived the notion that the so-called "Kennewick Man" (discovered in July, 1996, below the surface of Lake Wallula, a pooled part of the Columbia River behind McNary Dam in Kennewick, Washington) might have been a native Caucasian and that therefore this land was originally settled by white people. American Indians and a significant portion of the scientific community disagree with this notion. Kennewick Man Reference.   [return to poem]
  14. Founding Fathers. Some 100-plus white men sometimes organized into the following three groups: signers of the Declaration of Independence, signers of the Articles of Confederation, and signers of the U. S. Constitution.   [return to poem]
  15. 1066. September 28, 1066, William the Conqueror invades England to claim the English throne; on December 25, 1066, William is crowned king of England.  [return to poem]
  16. 1776. July 4, 1776 United States of America declares independence from England.  [return to poem]
  17. Willie Mays. American baseball player. Born May 6, 1931 in Westfield, Alabama. Mays played Major League Baseball for 22 years making his debut with the New York Giants of the National League on his 20th birthday, May 6, 1951. He played with the Giants (in both New York and San Francisco) from 1951 until 1972. He finished up his career back on the East Coast with the National League New York Mets. Defensively, Mays was an excellent fielding outfielder but he also played, at various times, firstbase, thirdbase and shortstop. A power-hitting batter from the right side Mays racked up impressive offensive statistics. Career Batting Average: .302; Career Homeruns: 660; Career Slugging Average: .557. Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. Statistical Reference.   [return to poem]
  18. bottom of the first. Refers to the second part of the first inning when the home team is up at bat.  [return to poem]
  19. Thebes. The largest and richest city of Boeotia in central Greece, north-west of Athens. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Cadmus was the founder of Thebes and the man responsible for bringing the Greek alphabet to life. The Greek alphabet is derived from the Phoenician alphabet, which is the first known alphabet, or writing system based on letters representing elementary sounds rather than ideograms like the Egyptian hieroglyphs. . Reference  [return to poem]
  20. maidens wail. Wailing maidens is a frequent occurrence in epic tales and myths. For example, Apollonius in his The Argonautica Book IV writes, "And all around the maidens, the daughters of Helios, enclosed in tall poplars, wretchedly wail a piteous plaint; and from their eyes they shed on the ground bright drops of amber. " Aeschylus in the The Suppliants has the chorus, the 50 daughters of Danuas chant, "And, ere the end shall be, Each man the truth of what I tell shall see. And if there dwell hard by One skilled to read from bird-notes augury, That man, when through his ears shall thrill our tearful wail, Shall deem he hears the voice, the plaintive tale Of her, the piteous spouse of Tereus, lord of guile- Whom the hawk harries yet, the mourning nightingale." Celtic mythology has the "Wailing Woman." also known as Caoineag or "Priestess of the dead." She is heard in the hilly areas and by bodies of water, and her wailing is thought to announce the death of someone in the royal family. Compare also the biblical Jephthah and his wailing daughter. (Book of Judges.)   [return to poem]
  21. Tito Fuentes. American baseball player. Born January 4, 1944 in Havana, Cuba. Fuentes played Major League Baseball for 13 years (1965-1978) and made his debut with the National League San Francisco Giants on August 18, 1965. After the 1976 season he played two years for the San Diego Padres, also in the National League. Fuentes went to the American League in 1977 when he joined the Detroit Tigers and finished his career in the American League with the Oakland Athletics. Primarily a secondbaseman he also played thirdbase and shortstop. Career Batting Average: .268; Career Homeruns: 45; Career Slugging Average: .347. Statistical Reference.   [return to poem]
  22. bleechers. These are usually uncovered stands of tiered planks that provide seating for spectators (more frequently spelled "bleachers.")  [return to poem]
  23. Chicanos. An American of Mexican descent.  [return to poem]
  24. blacks. Term used to refer to Americans of African heritage.   [return to poem]
  25. foot in the bucket. Refers to the step a batter takes as he prepares to swing at a baseball.  [return to poem]
  26. United Fruit Company. A United States company notorious for having economically colonized Central American in particular, using the support of the U.S. politically--and, on occasion, militarily--to ensure its taking of large profits in the region. Dissent within the U.S. against the U.S. government-United Fruit Company collaboration reached its peak in the second decade of the 20th century. Reference   [return to poem]
  27. gringo. A foreigner in Spain or Latin America especially when of English or American origin; broadly : a non-Hispanic person -- often used disparagingly. Spanish, alteration of griego from the Greek word for "stranger." First used circa 1849.  [return to poem]
  28. usury. Certainly another direct reference to the poet Ezra Pound. Usury is conventionally defined as the taking of unnecessarily high interest in loans, it has long been part of the language of anti-semitism. Ezra Pound's anti-semitism was based on his interest in fascist monetary theories, which, to put it over-simply, saw usury as the chief economic ill of modern society (but also see above, Note 3). In the Cantos Pound associated usury with making the naturally fertile infertile: usurers made something naturally infertile (money; coin) to "grow." "Metal is durable, but it does not reproduce itself," Pound reminds us. Reference   [return to poem]
  29. fascism. A tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control . From Italian fascismo, from fascio= bundle, fasces= group, from Latin fascis= bundle. Also, a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. First used circa 1921. Ferlinghetti is again referencing the poet Ezra Pound who met and endorsed the political philosophy of the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.  [return to poem]
  30. anti-semitism. Hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group. First used circa 1882. Another direct reference to the poet Ezra Pound who attained considerable notoriety for his anti-Semitic views.   [return to poem]
  31. first. Refers to first base, the first of four bases a runner needs to circle to score a run.  [return to poem]
  32. second. Refers to second base is sometimes called the "keystone" base.  [return to poem]
  33. third. Refers to third base often referred to as the "hot corner."  [return to poem]
  34. hits paydirt. In this context refers to scoring a run by crossing home plate.  [return to poem]
  35. territorio libre of Baseball. The free territory of baseball.  [return to poem]

















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JCBA Vol. 19
URL: http://www.cosmicbaseball.com//jcba19_bbcanto.html
Published: October 15, 2000
Copyright © 2000 by the Cosmic Baseball Association
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