Now come the dreary days of October, when the hopes of the fans of 28 major league teams have been dashed--with the dreams of the 29th about to be similarly--and perhaps dramatically--dismantled. Who better, as Halloween swoops down upon us with ebon pinion, to address the grim afterlife of a baseball season than Edgar Allan Poe?
Daguerreotype photograph by Edwin Manchester, Nov. 9, 1848 Morgan Library and Museum
And yes, "base ball" was played during Poe's brief lifetime (1809-1849)--and even in the Elysian Fields--a venue in Hoboken, New Jersey where teams from New York City and Brooklyn often contended. Perhaps no other American poet could better articulate the gloom of a season "dreamed, dared, and dragged in the dust" than the author of such dark imaginings as "The Raven," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and of course, "Ulalume." It would be wrong to suppose (as I have) that Poe cloistered himself in shadows all his life--as Matthew Redmond reminds us, the young Poe was a "lively, charismatic, and intelligent boy...a strong swimmer and a natural at field sports [including] bandy, a form of ice hockey."
The game of bandy as played in the English fen country. The young Poe played an American version of this game, a precursor of ice hockey
As the following offering demonstrates, we may also find both pathos and relief in the fact that when the hour came round for The Mighty Casey to make his appearance in American newspapers and on the musical theater stage, that Edgar Allan Poe himself had become tragically (and mysteriously, by all accounts) unavailable to welcome the Muse--or Muses--who would grace the Worcester doorstep of young Ernest Thayer in the early spring of 1888.
Casey in Ulalysium
The skies they were ashen and sober
The outfield was littered and sere;
It was late in a lonesome October
Of a most unremarkable year;
In a field on the outskirts of Mudville
Where the grasses lay dusty and sere,
Long past was the cheering of April,
And the crack of the bat on a sphere
Under heavens untroubled and clear.
Here once where we strode like the Titans
I wandered alone with my Soul--
With Psyche whose spirit embrightens
The clouds to roll back as a scroll;
Where memories nearly forgotten
Of contests begun--lost or won--
Are revealed for their deeds misbegotten
And exposed by the westering sun--
By the wearily westering sun.
Illustration by W. Heath Robinson (1872-1944)
Our colloquy there had been sober,
And our ponderings abject and sere;
I knew not the month was October,
Nor remember'd the day of the year,
When last where the green diamond glisters
I brandished my bat at the plate,
Poised where the three spinning sisters
Wove their web on the loom of my fate--
On the implacable loom of my fate.
Then my Psyche uplifting her finger
Gave a warning I could not mistrust:
"Among these dark shades do not linger--
Of deeds dreamed, dared and dragged in the dust;
Let us flee from these precincts long haunted
By the gibbering ghouls in the gloom;
Depart from these meadows unvaunted
By their foul emanations of doom--
Their mephitic miasmas of doom.”
"Stay!" I cried, "Do not disallow us
These scenes of our youthful delight--
When we warriors contested our prowess
In the gleam of a crystalline light--
Like Astur so bold and behelméd
Advancing with swaggering stride,
Toward that sanguineous bridgehead--
Though the gods told of what would betide,
Where the Tiber with scarlet was dyed."
"Publius Horatius Cocles and Two Companions Defend the Tiber Bridge," Augustyn Mirys (1700-1790)
But Psyche was not to be tempted:
Apprehensive she trod through the night;
Soft she sang of the deed I attempted
In that yesteryear trial of my might;
Thus she summoned those sorrowing phantasms--
Ulalume, Annabel, and Lenore--
Who call from unbridgeable chasms
O'er the banks of the Stygian shore--
From the blackness beyond that far shore.
"Among these dark shades do not linger..." Dante Gabriel Rossetti, illustration of Poe's "Ulalume" ca 1847-48
Then my heart fell ashen and sober,
As the grass shivered, withered and sere,
And I cried, "It was surely October
On the very same night of last year!
And that pitch that I should have knocked over --
With a twist did it swift disappear…
Well I know now this landscape macabre,
With its shadows so hapless and drear--
When propelled by the peripeteia
Brings the catharsis of pity and fear!"
--With thanks to Edgar Allan Poe, apologies to Ernest Thayer, and a nod both to Aristotle and Thomas Macaulay
For those curious as to how other prominent 19th century American poets might have similarly misappropriated the immortal "Casey at the Bat," see Emily Dickinson in the Elysian Fields and Song of Our Game: The Ballad of Casey as Imagined by Walt Whitman. Then you may (or may not) be ready for Casey Stops by the Ball Park on a Snowy Evening as imagined by Robert Frost...
And as for "Casey in Ulalysium," critics should feel free to spare--or share--their adverse comments! For I freely admit that before I even picked up my pencil, I knew this version would be Poe-ly written.
Poe's "Ulalume," written in 1847 and set within a dismal October landscape, offers perhaps a strange foreshadowing of Poe's own mysterious death, which would occur on October 7 only two years later.
 Matthew Redmond, "Edgar Allan Poe Needs a Friend," Lapham's Quarterly (Roundtable) September 7, 2021.
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