The Last Hockey

A poem by John Kendall

After A. T.

So for the last great Hockey of the Hills,
- Damsel v. Dame - by ruder cynics called
The Tournament of the Dead Dignities,
We gained the lists, and I, thro' humorous lens,
Perused the revels. Here on autumn grass
Leapt the lithe-elbowed Spin, and strongly merged
In scrimmage with the comfortable Wife
And temporary Widow, - know you not,
Such trifles are the merest commonplace
In loftier contours? - Twenty-two in all
They numbered, and none other trod the field
Save one, the bold Sir Referee, whose charge
It was to keep fair order in the lists,
And peace 'twixt Dame and Damsel: married, he.

O brothers, had ye seen them! O the games!
Fleet-footed some: lightly they leapt, and drave
Or missed the pellet; then, perchance, would turn
With hand that sought their tresses. Others moved
Careless, in half disdain, nor urged pursuit;
Yet ever and anon would shriek, and miss
The pellet, while the bold Sir Referee
Skipt in avoidance. From the factions came
The cry of voices shrilling woman-wise,
The clash of stick on stick, the muffled shin,
The sudden whistle, and the murmurous note
Of mutual disaffection. Otherwhere
The myriad coolie chortled, knightly palms
Clapped, and the whole vale echoed to the noise
Of ladies, who in session to the West
Sat with the light behind them, self-approved.

Fortune with equal favour poised the scale,
And loudlier rang the trouble, till I heard
'A Susan! Ho! A Susan!' - She, oh she,
One whom myself had picked from out the crowd
Of hot girl-athletes with their tousled hair,
Was on the ball. Deftly she smote, and drave
On, and so paddled swiftly in its wake.
The good ash gleamed and fell; the forward ranks
Gave passage; once again she smote, again
Paddled, nor passed, but paddling ever neared
The mournful guardian of the Sacred Goal,
Hewing and hacking. Little need to tell
Of Susan in her glory; whom she smote
She felled, and whom she shocked she overthrew;
And, shrieking, passed exultant to her doom.

For Susan, while she clove a devious course,
Moved crab-like, in a strange diagonal,
And, driving, crossed the frontiers. Thither came
The bold Sir Referee, and shrilled abroad
The tremulous, momentary 'touch.' But she,
Heaving with unaccustomed exercise,
Blinded and baffled, wild with all despair,
Stood sweeping, as a churl that sweeps the scythe
In earlier pastures. Twice he skipped, and poured
The desperate whistle. Once again, and he,
Skipping, diffused the whistle. But at last,
So shrewd a blow she dealt him on the shin,
That had he stood reverse-wise on his head,
Not on his feet, I know not what had chanced.
Then to the shuddering Orient skies there rose
A marvellous great shriek, the splintering noise
Of shattered ash-plant and of battered shank,
Mixed with a higher. For Susan, overwrought,
Lost footing, and with one clear dolorous wail
Fell headlong, only more so. And I saw,
Clothed in black stockings, mystic, wonderful,
That which I saw. The coolies yelled. The crowd
Closed round, and so the tourney reached an end.

Then home they bore the bold Sir Referee
In Susan's litter; and they tended him
With curious tendance; and they drowned his views
On Susan, and the tourney, and the place
Whither he'd see them ere again he ruled
Such functions, with a sweet, small song (I call
It sweet that should not!). This is how it ran: -

'Our Referee has fall'n, has fall'n. The stick,
The little stick he leapt at in the lists
Has riven and cleft the bark, and raised a bulk
Of crescent span, that spreads on every side
A thousand hues, all flushing into one.

'Our Referee has fall'n, has fall'n. She came,
The woman with her ash, and lo the wound!
But we will make a bandage for the limb,
And swathe it, heel to knee, with splints and wool,
And embrocations for the hurts of man.

'Our Referee has fall'n, has fall'n; he wailed;
With our own ears we heard him, and we knew
There dwelt an iron nature in the grain!
The splintering ash was cloven on his limb;
His limb was battered to the cannon-bone.'

So passed that stout but choleric knight away;
And we, by certain wandering instincts led,
Made for a small pavilion, where we found
Viands and what not, and the thirsty flower
Of mountain knighthood gathered at the board.
And entering, here we lingered, and discussed
The what not, and the viands, and in time
Drew to the tourney, giving each his views; -
But mostly wondering what the coolies thought
To see these ladies of the Ruling Race,
'Yoked in all exercise of noble end,'
And Public Exhibition. Was it wise?
Some questioned; others, was it quite the thing?

And here indeed we left it, for the shades
Deepened, the high, swift-narrowing crest of day
Brake from the hills, and down the path we went,
Well pleased, for it was guest-night at the Club.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The Last Hockey' by John Kendall

comments powered by Disqus