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St. Padraig & The Monster

By: Jay Flemma


Editor's Note: Cybergolf's Jay Flemma outdoes himself in this poetic take on the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, during which Ireland's Padraig Harrington outdueled the year's best field and a fierce golf course. At the end of Jay's epic rendering are his notes and inspirations for the piece.

Though Oakland Hills is fair and green
There lurks a fearsome peril there.
A terror sleeps, though now unseen,
It wakens soon from evil dreams,
With slavering jaws and talons keen.
Brave heroes would its claws ensnare
To tear asunder those who dare
And feast upon their dying screams.

For decades did its legend grow,
More terrible each time the tales,
The bane of golfers high and low
Its vicious, terrifying blow
Courageous valor overthrows.
The Monster rules these hills and dales!
No blade can penetrate its scales.
Defeat and death its foes shall know.

And so alarums far and wide
Throughout the land did peal and ring.
"Oh whither can the people fly?
From this foul beast we cannot hide.
We beg some brave heart, turn the tide!
Let this vile creature feel the sting,
Of speeding arrow, sword and sling,
Let no more pretty widows cry.

"Oh great kings, you must set us free,
The Monster wakes to soon hold sway!
Sir Tiger can't, he hurt his knee,
He's far away across the sea
Aboard a yacht called "Privacy."
Bright silver will we give away,
And fame beyond your dying day.
Please save us!" rang their frightened plea.

So mighty knights from far and near
Responded to the desperate call.
Forsaking all that they hold dear,
With courage would they conquer fear
And boldly face The Monster's leer.
"On bended knee the beast will crawl,
And songs shall celebrate its fall!
Henceforth, to never reappear."

But few among them knew their plight,
Just one remained keenly aware.
St. Padraig, clothed in lilywhite
And gauntlets shimmering samite [2]
His sword and shield gleaming bright
Possessed of fearsome icy stare
(A basilisk would fear his glare!) [3] ,
He knew too well The Monster's might.

Still others brave and bold arrived
Like Phil, Vijay, J.B. and Boo
For Wanamaker's cup they'd strive
And willingly they'd risk their lives
And terrify forsaken wives
That stayed behind, unable to
Affect the fray and ballyhoo,
Imploring them, "Return alive."

Ben Curtis pledged he would proceed
To liberate our haunted glen.
No silver cup does Curtis need,
His honest spirit knows no greed,
Fair Candace [4] spurs each noble deed.
An altruistic gentleman
And valiant, kind heart: that's our Ben.
He'll die with honor or succeed.

Garcia - brazen -stood up then,
His armor deepest sable black.
"I shall succeed, where Phil or Ben
or Padraig would all fail again.
I ain't no stinkin' T.C. Chen!
The Monster will not see my back,
I'm longing to face its attack
And be a titan among men."

That night a haunted blood-red moon
A burning crescent in the sky
Illuminated dale and dune
In horrifying crimson hue
Portending death for me and you. [5]
"This omen is an evil sign!
The Monster comes! Its time is nigh,"
They fretted. "He will be here soon."

And then a thunderous, fatal knell
Roared out and rent the darkened sky.
A shadow grew, and midnight fell,
And from the blackest pit of Hell
The Monster flew into the dell.
"No enemy escapes my eye
Each puny mortal fool shall die!
My darkness no one can dispel!"

The tramp of doom, its massive stride,
Its wings a mighty hurricane,
Its tail smote the mountainside,
The trees fell flat, the rivers dried
And craven-hearted dotards cried
"It's Bobby Jones and Crenshaw's bane!
Flee him! Your courage is in vain."
The cowards shouted, terrified.

So many brave were felled that day,
Like Vijay, Boo, J.B. and Phil
The Monster's malice did hold sway,
And even sunshine he dismayed.
We saw no single golden ray,
In glade, in valley, or on hill.
But though The Monster ate its fill,
Brave deeds my hand can still portray

Amidst the tumult, Ben arose,
Undaunted by the creature's ire.
His cry "For Candace!" boldly rose,
"This tyranny we shall depose."
And Sergio joined in, raining blows.
But then The Monster's threat most dire,
Incinerating dragon-fire,
Encircled and engulfed its foes.

And by those flames stoked deep in Hell
Both heroes' courage was laid low.
The beast unleashed a victory yell
Which raged and rumbled through the dell.
All cowered at the deathly knell.
But then - Behold! - a light did glow.
And through the gloom, began to grow
St. Padraig dared to break the spell.

His shield thrust aside the flame.
He feared no fire, doom, or dread.
Its sword-like teeth he overcame
And at its wicked, black heart aimed
His blade. "For Ireland!" he exclaimed
and smote the foul beast's vile head.
The Monster, bloodied, turned and fled.
And thus was Oakland Hills reclaimed.

From frozen north to warm southland
Rejoicing voices sing out now.
"St. Padraig, Vorpal sword in hand,
No Jabberwocky could withstand! [6]
He brought us peace throughout the land."
So on St. Padraig's noble brow
Three Silmarils [7] they did endow
And Starlight rings to grace his hand.

St. Padraig then did speak in turn
These humble words he did allow:
"If once again its breath should burn,
The Monster's specter you discern
Or fear or darkness your hearts learn,
If that foul creature rise somehow
I pledge to you my solemn vow:
Just call for me, I shall return."


© Jay Flemma 2008, All rights reserved.

1. The title is for Jason, on his birthday. 18 stanzas, one for every hole on the golf course.
2. According to Arthurian Legend, samite garbed the arm of The Lady of The Lake as she held aloft Excaliber from the bosom of the water.
3. The gaze of the basilisk kills instantly when it meets the eyes of its victim.
4. Ben's wife.
5. This strange atmospheric phenomenon occurred Tuesday evening of tournament week. A blood-red crescent hung so low and so large in the night sky, crowds stopped to stare and take photographs.
6. A Vorpal sword was used to slay the Jabberwock in Lewis Carroll's classic poem.
7. Jewels that blaze with the light of stars, according to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Notes & Comments on Writing St. Padraig and The Monster

Introduction

Ordinary folks universally cite two problems with poetry. First, it's too complex, obscure, or academic. Second, most modern poetry is nothing more than self-indulgent free-verse ranting. I agree in principle with their complaints. Too much "depth" and obscurity in the name of erudition loses the general population in a fog of quasi-intellectualism. Too much self-indulgence makes turns art into a confused jumble, a rant, frequently a lowest common denominator screed against the so-called poet's intended target.

A poem is, in its essence, a song, an oral tradition. It should be memorable, or at least have easily memorable and recitable parts. Meter and rhyme scheme are integral in a hit song, which I believe also lie at the heart of most great poems, a few free-verse geniuses aside, such as Boston's Sophie Wadsworth.

Why do most people more often remember the old romantic poets, with their meters and rhymes? Because they find the beat and groove to it:

The Pekes and the Pollicles, everyone knows,
Are proud and implacable passionate foes;
It's always the same, wherever one goes.
And the Pugs and the Poms, although most people say
That they do not like fighting, will often display
Every symptom of wanting to join in the fray.
With a bark bark bark bark bark bark bark bark
Until you can hear them all over the park.


That's easier to remember than:

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air.


Can you believe the same man (T.S. Eliot) wrote these two verses? There's nothing wrong with the latter, but nothing about it that makes you eager to recite it. The former, on the other hand, has a sing-song banter that helps the reader remember the words; someone orally reciting the poem can get into a groove.

So after several months of critiquing poetry this year - both golf related and non-golf related - and after reading Percy Byssche Shelley, Eliot, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and plenty of free verse, I considered trying my hand at writing some lines. After Padraig Harrington won the PGA at Oakland Hills - "The Monster" - I was ready to put my money where my mouth was. I knew the tale of St. George and the Dragon and thought I could write a poem with a similar story line: "St. Padraig and The Monster."

The idea lasted 10 minutes. The morning after Harrington won I pulled up GolfObserver.com to read everyone's articles. One of my favorite writers, and an all-around good guy who has been kind enough to give me advice, is SI's John Garrity, one of the old guard. His ability as a writer is surpassed only by how nice a chap he is. Garrity wrote in his article - and this is close but not exact - that every wannabe poet in Ireland "is trying to find a rhyme for Sergio." When a guy like Garrity pans an idea, you listen - ordinarily. Maybe this was a daft idea. Plus, I never wrote much poetry in my life. How was I going to craft something good? Play to your strengths.

But another thought crossed my mind - and I'm actually grateful my mind worked like this by nature - I also thought to myself that the word "Sergio" is a dactyl: a word with three syllables and the accent on the first syllable. Therefore, it belongs at the beginning of a line, not at the end. Plus, Garrity's right: that's a tough rhyme (uhh…"urgio," "submergio," "stergio," "blurgio," "on the vergio," these don't exactly roll off the tongue…).

Poetry also got some props that week from my Irish writer friends Dermot Gileece, Brian Keogh, and Karl McGinty. Dermot, another venerable member of the old guard, traded lines of Shelley and Coleridge with me on the bus ride from the hotel to the course. So despite Garrity's jesting, I only tabled the poem, I didn't abandon the idea entirely.

Bored on the Train

Months later, I was on the train home, re-reading J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien is not just for Dungeons and Dragons nerds, he is a master of both narrative and poetry. Never forget, he was a professor at Oxford and in a writing circle called Inklings with C.S. Lewis. The man was a mighty writer and a Literary Lion, a master of both prose and poetry. This beautiful stanza, one of my all-time favorite verses, gave me the structure for St. Padraig. Tolkien wrote:

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadows shimmering.
Tinuviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair
And in her rainment glimmering.


It's beautiful, memorable and short. More importantly, it was a good meter and rhyme scheme: something easy for sports fans to follow.

So, bored on the train ride, I tried to write a few lines. Three hours later I had five complete verses and the outline of 13 more, 18 in all, one for each hole on a golf course. I sent it to the Irishmen for a test market, fully expecting the rebuke of, "Jay, put down the rhyming dictionary and slowly back away."

Instead, Brian responded that I should go for it. "It's how I remember the tournament," he said. I decided to try to finish it, thinking, "If it's great, great. If not, oh well, try, try, again." The poem was written in earnest late the following evening. With my beloved Boston Red Sox as background noise, I wrote 10 stanzas (1 - 13 and 17-18) in three hours and I even had a few lines of the remainder, just the final battle between Sergio, Ben and Padraig remained.

The next night saw another late night three-hour stint, in which I completed stanzas 14 and 15, where Ben and Sergio make their stands. I had a line or two of the last remaining stanza, No. 16, Padraig's battle with The Monster.

It took two hours the next night to get stanza 16 correct. I find it ironic that the last stanza written was Padraig's battle and that the last line was his battle cry: "For Ireland!" It was like pulling teeth getting this verse right. I must have moved "A" rhymes to the "B" position, then switched back half a dozen times. Finally, I got it where I liked it. A few minor edits, and I was done. I looked at my calendar, realized the next morning was my cousin Jason's birthday, so I dedicated it to him as a present.

Analysis

Besides containing short stanzas - eight lines of eight metrical feet each - the rhyme scheme is also simple, so everyone can follow along. There are only two rhyme bases per stanza, A and B. The skill lay in making it lyrical. I wanted to have tercets - a triplet of the same rhyme in each stanza as a base with which oral recitation could gather steam. Shelley gives a great example in his "Battle of Austerlitz":

Ye hear the groans of those who die
Ye heard the whistling death shots fly
And when the yells of Victory.


[Author's Note: The last word was recited as Victor-eye - an old pronunciation of the word in vogue at the time.]

Float o'er the murdered good
Ye smile secure. - On yonder plain
The game if lost begins again.


Notice how the triple rhyme builds in intensity as it progresses. The following couplet rhyme provides balance and counterpoint.

I ultimately settled on A-B to introduce the rhymes, then A-A-A-B-B, where the triplet provides a solid, energetic foundation, and the following couplet to change the direction. The rhyme scheme returns to A for the last line. Here is stanza 3, as an illustration:

And so alarums far and wide
Throughout the land did peal and ring.


A and B rhymes are presented. Then the triple rhyme appears, frequently a stand-alone triplet that I wrote before the rest of the verse:

Oh whither can the people fly?
From this foul beast we cannot hide.
We beg some brave heart, turn the tide!


The tercet is a complete, independent thought, but also builds in intensity. Then the couplet that follows is also a complete thought:

Let this vile creature feel the sting,
Of speeding arrow, sword and sling


I frequently tried to make these the meat and potatoes of each stanza and, frequently, they were the first lines written in each stanza, with the beginning and end crafted around and provided transitions between stanzas. Here's the last line:

Let no more pretty widows cry.

Bringing back the well remembered rhyme of the tercet in the middle, and wrapping up each stanza.

In many ways, crafting this poem really was like doing a crossword puzzle: instead of finding the right five-letter word that answered the clue and fit with the letters already solved, I had to find the right rhymes, get the right number of syllables, and make sure that all words were properly accented on their appropriate downbeat or syncopation when recited.

So there it is. That's how to read the poem. Try it once out loud. Sure, there's not much golf in it. But combining golf and epic poetry might make it only half of each, so I went full bore in the epic form. If you like it, I'll try more golf next time. If not, oh well, try, try, again.



Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.