This week I wanted to do sport; we’ve had Wimbledon (and suck on a sour Murray mint); the Grand Depart has left us with a glow even though we’ve now lost both Cavendish and Froome (if we are being parochially British) to crashes; England’s football team, as per, spent less time in the cup than your average teabag; and England, oh England, have lost to Sri Lanka at cricket and are failing against India. You see, I need my sporting side perking up but sonneteers seem woefully in short supply when it comes to sporting sonnets.
Will the Great does allude to sport in this one:
Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness;
Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport;
Both grace and faults are lov’d of more and less:
Thou mak’st faults graces that to thee resort.
As on the finger of a throned queen
The basest jewel will be well esteem’d,
So are those errors that in thee are seen
To truths translated, and for true things deem’d.
How many lambs might the stern wolf betray,
If like a lamb he could his looks translate!
How many gazers mightst thou lead away,
If thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state!
But do not so, I love thee in such sort,
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.
But here Shakespeare is admonishing his love to be careful not to damage his reputation, and by extension, his own by his wanton behaviour. Not really a sonnet of two halves, is it? This is a nice sonnet, no more; it is part of a series of six where the poet is chastising his lover. But here it is not a harsh criticism, more a gentle prod. Perhaps Shakespeare is too tired to really have a go, or maybe he’s just going through the motions.
So my best laid plans and all that…
Instead I offer you this. A sporting favourite from Sporting relations by Roger McGough though not a sonnet.
on street corners.
a funny disease.
And my sonnet this week is based around watching the Olympics, in Beijing as it happens but it could equally apply to London or any other recent summer Games. For those who don’t get it, the sports alluded to are the men’s team cycle pursuit and the triple jump.
Improbable arcs, they shape with simple grace,
Higher by far than Herculean gods.
They dive, like salmon, in an old millrace,
Fake scaled, in black, mocking friction and the odds.
Four lycra saddlemen of apocalypse,
Impossibly close till they swoop up high,
While a peacock prepares his triptych blitz,
Both men and gravity does he defy.
Water, earth and air limit simple men,
But those honed gods are made of sterner stuff.
After four toiling years, they reach a point when
Their efforts lift the fog, they’ve done enough
To know what has been their goal all along:
To leap higher, go faster, and be strong.