Brevity=Wit Entry #13

February 22nd, 2010 by Wordsman

Sport is in the air.  In college basketball, teams on the bubble are looking for one last hot run that might get them into the Big Dance.  In baseball, pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training.  In the NHL . . . well, something must be going on.  And in Vancouver, in between uplifting and inspiring us, the greatest athletes in the world are reminding us of one of the greatest truths in sport: even heroes sometimes fall (in the case of the Winter Olympics, often literally).

In the realm of fiction, nowhere is this truth better exemplified than in Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s poem “Casey at the Bat.”  Long-term readers (and, as far as I know, I have nothing but) may recall from last summer that I am a particular fan of this work, and I thought it would be worth taking a look at it from another angle.  Non-fans of baseball often complain that the game is too long.  Wondering if these people might have the same problem with a poem about baseball, I decided to look into shortening it.

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

“The Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Co”

Now, we’ve seen this before: the author gets in a good introduction, but he wastes so many characters that he has no time left to get to the meat of the story.  Casey isn’t even mentioned for another stanza, and this hero doesn’t actually appear until about a thousand characters in.  Thayer gets to mention the Mudville nine, but the only specifics we get about them are the first two letters of a name (at least, we assume it’s a name because of the capital “C,” though his capitalization of “Outlook” makes such an assumption risky at best).

Authors could solve much of this “setting dilemma” by taking care of business with the title and then moving on.  In this case, once we’ve seen “Casey at the Bat,” we’re already pretty sure it’s about baseball, discounting the off chance that it’s a story about Casey and a buddy of his from the order Chiroptera.  But we can go further.  If the title was something like “Casey’s Bat: Hot or Not?” or “Casey: Hit or Die,” then we could easily skip the first 5-7 stanzas, avoiding wasting time with peripheral characters like “Cooney” and “Barrows,” who clearly aren’t as important as Casey himself.

This leaves us free to cover all the essential facts in a few quick, painless fragments (this is poetry, remember, so we’re not too worried about grammar):

“9th inning, two out.  Mudville down by 2, two men on base.  Casey takes strike one, strike two, strike three.  Game over.  Mudville joyless.”

Now that you’ve gotten the story of Casey out of the way, you have plenty of time to move on to reading the scouting report on the vastly underrated Jimmy Blake.

Posted in Brevity=Wit | 1 Comment »

One Response

  1. Shirley Says:

    Mudville outlook not brilliant, but BITSOW is.

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