Edward Winter's Chess Explorations (93)

12/16/2012 – A great deal of poetry has been written on the subject of chess, some of it wonderful but some of it atrocious. The Editor of Chess Notes has gathered together a wide-ranging selection which embraces various genres: lyric poetry, doggerel, acrostics, comic verse and satire. There is even the case of a poem which wittily lampooned members of a London club and was subjected to ‘censorship’.

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Chess Explorations (93)

By Edward Winter

Over the years we have quoted much chess-related poetry, ranging from the sublimely beautiful to the virtually unprintable. Among the poets, the ace of spades is probably Lord Dunsany, whereas H.T. Bland may well be the two of clubs. The composition by Bland given below was quoted on page 396 of A Chess Omnibus, having originally been published, somehow, on page 13 of the January 1931 American Chess Bulletin:

Kashdan has sprung up into fame
All of a sudden, as it were.
Scarcely a handful till quite late
Had been familiar with his name.
‘Divine afflatus’ he has shown
A gift bequeathed him by the gods,
Now far and wide his power is known.

Chess and Poetry offers four further examples of Bland’s effusions, together with some biographical information about him.

Henry Thomas Bland

Another lyric embarrassment was Anthony Santasiere. The piece below comes from pages 24-25 of The Year Book of the United States Chess Federation 1944 (Chicago, 1945); entitled ‘Brave Heart’, it was written in August 1942 for F.J. Marshall’s 65th birthday. The oeuvre began:

Brave Heart –
We salute you!
Knowing neither gain nor loss,
Nor fear, nor hate –;
But only this –
To fight – to fight –
And to love.

Santasiere then gushes on in a similar vein for another 40 lines or so, and we pick up the encomium for its final verse:

For this – dear Frank –
We thank you.
For this – dear Frank –
We love you!
Brave heart –
Brave heart –
We love you!

Frank James Marshall (sitting target)

It should not be imagined that chess poetry is invariably insipid or lacking bite, and there is even a case of a magazine ‘censoring’ part of a mocking poem. Pages 138-139 of the January 1895 Chess Monthly published the following:

Thirty years later (BCM, March 1925, page 127) it was reported that the Chess Monthly had deleted the rhyming couplet regarding one prominent member of the British Chess Club, Professor Klein:

K stands for Klein, the bacillus’s horror
At chess I would back the bacillus termorrer.

The above photograph of Wordsworth Donisthorpe, who wrote the ‘Alphabet’, was published on page 97 of the December 1890 Chess Monthly.

Another well-known comic form is the limerick. Here is a composition from page 25 of the Chess Amateur, October 1907:

A solver, who lived at Devizes,
Had won a great number of prizes –
A dual or cook,
He’d detect at a look,
And his head swelled up several sizes.

There follow two more examples of comic verse, beginning with ‘Kann That Caro’ by Huxley St John Brooks, from page 171 of the November 1932 American Chess Bulletin:

Like new-laid eggs Chess Problems are,
Though very good, they may be beaten;
And yet, though like, they’re different far,
They may be cooked, but never eaten.

The above was published on page 58 of Poems and Chess Problems by J.A. Miles (Fakenham, 1882). The same page had this acrostic:

Blackburne our Champion’s praise we sing,
Long may he reign of Chess the King;
And forth, triumphant from the fray,
Crowned with the Victor’s wreath of bay,
King-like may come. On checker’d fields
Blindfold his battle-axe he wields;
Undaunted by the loss of sight,
Relentless he displays his might.
Now, covered with undying fame,
England exalts her Hero’s name.

Chess acrostics are not uncommon, and the composition below comes from A Complete Guide to the Game of Chess by H.F.L. Meyer (London, 1882), page ix:

Chess is such a noble game,
How it does the soul inflame!
Ever brilliant, ever new,
Surely chess has not its due;
Sad to say, ’tis known to few!

Also with the word ‘chess’ there is a double acrostic (i.e. with identical letters starting and ending each line). Composed by W.A. Ballantine, it was published on page 153 of the American Chess Journal, September 1878:

Charming as the sweetest music;
High above the common reach,
Easy to the bright and wise;
Splendid in the hands of genius;
Such the royal game of chess.

C.N. 4278 gave two chess poems by Tartakower from page 744 of Kagan’s Neueste Schachnachrichten, January 1922 and page 170, April 1922:

The present selection closes with what may be the finest chess poem ever written, by Lord Dunsany. It marked the death of R.H.S. Stevenson and was published on page 74 of the April 1943 BCM:

One art they say is of no use;
The mellow evenings spent at chess,
The thrill, the triumph, and the truce
To every care, are valueless.

And yet, if all whose hopes were set
On harming man played chess instead,
We should have cities standing yet
Which now are dust upon the dead.

Lord Dunsany

For many more specimens, ranging from Lord Dunsany to H.T. Bland and including background information, see Chess and Poetry.

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All ChessBase articles by Edward Winter

Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then, over 7,880 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989). In 2011 a paperback edition was issued.

Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center. Signed copies of Edward Winter's publications are currently available.

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