Not long before the Brooklyn Dodgers left for Los Angeles, the poet Marianne Moore, a Brooklyn resident for 30 years, composed an inspirational poem in their honor. Called Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reese, it was filled with unabashed praise for the feats of the Dodgers, with quaint rhymes, odd quotations and a knowledge of baseball which, in view of the fact that Miss Moore is a frail and elderly lady and one of the finest living American poets, was, to say the least, remarkable.
To Miss Moore's literary admirers, however, accustomed as they were to the delicacy and highly individualized nature of her work, Hometown Piece was a distinct and rather unpleasant surprise. It was surely not the sort of thing T. S. Eliot had in mind when he called Marianne Moore one of the few living writers to have made an enduring contribution to poetry in the English language. And it was even more of a jolt to see her, during the World Series last fall, on Jack Paar's television show, calmly answering questions on this sport, which some highbrows, after all, consider rather lowbrow. "Who's going to win it?" she was asked, and she replied, as confidently as though she had a private wire to the Muses, "The Dodgers"—this despite the fact that her favorites had just squeaked through a 4-3 victory after that 11-0 disaster.
Miss Moore, of course, was perfectly right (though she confessed to me later that she had had a momentary qualm, considering the strength the White Sox had been showing), and remembering her uncanny powers of prophecy, I went out to her Brooklyn home not long ago to see what she thought about the coming season. I also wanted to ask her, if the occasion arose, how she got to be a baseball fan in the first place. I found her somewhat disconsolate about the Dodgers' prospects: she reluctantly admitted that she was interested in the White Sox and (with a faint trace of a frown, as if her thoughts were misquoting her) that she rather liked the Cardinals. As for her background in sports, which I had thought was probably of literary derivation, she told me, no, indeed; she had read very little on the subject, but she had, as a young girl, been a teacher for five years at the famous Carlisle Indian School, when Jim Thorpe, Gus Welch and other great Indian athletes were there.
If Miss Moore had said she learned about baseball as a catcher on the original All-Girls team, she could scarcely have astonished me more. She is a small person, neat and gentle in appearance, with her white hair braided around her head and, in her usual costume of white blouse and pleated skirt, as innocent-looking as she must have been in those far-off days when Indians just off the reservations were her charges. It seemed incongruous, and I asked her if she had not been afraid of them.
February 15, 1960
"It never occurred to me to be afraid," she said in her pleasant, slightly twangy voice—a voice which has a rhythm and an intonation all its own, like the reverse of a Boston or British accent. "You know, before I began teaching there was a good deal of uneasiness because it was feared that I wouldn't be able to control the Indian boys. But the athletes helped me. The only trouble came from some neurotic Sioux and Ojibway boys who were a long way from home and lonely and unhappy—there were a few sadists, too—but there was really no difficulty. The Indians had great behavior and ceremony"—Miss Moore uses words in conversation with the same individuality found in her poems—"and were exceedingly chivalrous and decent and cooperative and...idealistic. There are likely to be a few recalcitrants in every school, who won't work and won't accept discipline, and an Indian recalcitrant, a Sioux, perhaps, tends to be more recalcitrant than the average. A boy like Joseph Loud Bear, who was the worst...."
"Was he a Sioux?"
"Oh, he was certainly a Sioux—very much a Sioux! But I had so little trouble it was hardly worth mentioning. My biggest bugbears were mending typewriters and minding the evening study hours. James Thorpe was always helpful, always chivalrous and kindly. He was an exceedingly generous boy. James was a little slow—he was a little slow mentally." Miss Moore paused after these words, and this was the only adverse comment that I could manage to glean from her about her students, and she seemed to mean by it only that Thorpe—she always spoke of him as James, as she had addressed him in the classroom—wasn't much at book learning. "I was fond of him, and I liked his wife, Iva Miller, who was in my typing class. And I was friendly with Gus Welch and his wife also. Gus didn't seem at all an Indian, and had none of the appearance of one, but he was, oh, so tenacious. And then Joel Wheelock! And Alex Arcasa! James Baker was one of the chief students. He was older than the others, and an extremely artistic boy. There was very little of the Indian evident in him. And Charles Bender! Charles was intellectually impressive."
"Was Charles Bender the pitcher with the Philadelphia Athletics-Chief Bender?"
"Yes...Charles was there before I taught at the Indian School. I was still a schoolgirl in Carlisle then. He was older than we were; but we all knew who he was. He was impassive, inexpressive, very tall and handsome. Last summer, when my brother was driving through Cooperstown, he stopped at the Baseball Hall of Fame, and sent me Charles's official record as it is kept there."
"SOMETHING GRECIAN ABOUT THEM"
She searched around until she found a card, and read it carefully in her precise voice. Charles Albert Bender, known as Chief Bender, was born May 5, 1883 at Brainerd, Minn., stood 6 feet 2 and weighed 185. He was not yet 20 when he made his major league bow in 1903, and led the American League in games won in 1910, 1911 and 1914. Bender won 10 consecutive games in 1907 and 14 in 1914. His major-league totals were 206 victories against 130 defeats.
Looking at Bender's picture, and referring to the Indian athletes at Carlisle, she said thoughtfully, "There was something Grecian about them."
Miss Moore taught at Carlisle from 1911 until 1915, and these were the years, as every football fan knows, when the Indians, under Coach Glenn Warner, achieved the most remarkable record, all things considered, in the history of the sport. In one three-year period, for instance, the Indians won 33 and lost three. The teams that included Thorpe, Joe Guyon, Gus Welch, Alex Arcasa and a few other brilliant boys from Sioux, Cheyenne, Seneca, Nez Perce, Cherokee and other tribes beat Yale, Army, Navy, Penn, Brown, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Dartmouth, Cornell and Harvard—virtually every major college football team of national prominence. The Carlisle track team was almost as successful, and as for the baseball team, it won such a reputation that it had to be disbanded in 1909 because of what the Indian School superintendent called "the evils of summer professionalism." Miss Moore, in short, was at Carlisle during its golden age, and her work was one in which the intellectual world, represented by her then-nascent poetry, intersected with the world of popular culture that is represented by the common man's interest in sport.
Marianne Moore was born in Kirk-wood, a suburb of St. Louis, in 1887. Her father became an invalid in her earliest years, and she was raised in the home of her grandfather, The Reverend John Warner, the minister of the First Kirkwood Presbyterian Church for 27 years. When she was 9 years old, her mother took the children to visit relatives at Welch Run, near Carlisle, and while they were there an opportunity came to teach English at Metzger Institute, a fashionable girl's school in Carlisle itself. Mrs. Moore accepted it, Marianne went to school at Metzger, in a big, gloomy-looking building, now one of the dormitories of Dickinson College, that she remembered principally for its clanking radiators. She grew up as an average small-town girl, with an enthusiasm for tennis, a hearty love of the outdoors, and a deep interest in the athletic record of the Carlisle Indians, an interest that she shared with all Carlisle, including its social aristocracy, to which she belonged.
At that time—around the turn of the century—the Indian School had just begun to emerge from its local fame to its national prominence. Officially known as the United States Indian Industrial School, it was founded in 1879 (only three years after the Indians wiped out Custer and his whole command at Little Big Horn) and for nearly two decades struggled to survive. The school grew out of the work of Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt in rehabilitating Indian prisoners placed in his charge during the Indian campaigns of 1874-76. They were Plains Indians, sent for confinement in the old Spanish fortress in St. Augustine, Fla., and they arrived there half-naked, wild, dirty, vermin-ridden, crazed and in chains. Pratt began by teaching them English, and soon had them self-supporting, making money selling bows and arrows to Florida tourists. Many of them became so trusted they were permitted to become fishing and hunting guides in the Everglades. Pratt wangled permission to have several of the most intelligent educated in Negro schools. These then became his ambassadors to the tribes in the West, persuading the chiefs to send their children to Pratt to be educated.
With the phenomenal success of his first efforts, Pratt urged upon his superiors the need for better and more permanent facilities. General William Tecumseh Sherman induced the War Department to permit the Carlisle barracks, which were abandoned and badly deteriorated, to be used as a school. Because Congress had not yet approved the school, it was started with Sherman's authorization as an Army measure, but the students had to be shipped to Pratt's personal care. Chief Spotted Tail, for example, sent five of his children to Pratt. That remarkable officer (he became Brigadier General Pratt) was, as Miss Moore remembers him, a most impressive individual—"Both General Pratt and his wife were very substantial and imposing," is what she said. "They were romantic figures, always dashing up with their horse and carriage, and they were intelligent and cultural. But General Pratt was so monumental no one could dare approach him to tell him one approved of the work he was doing."
Pratt had led cavalry in the Indian wars, had a gallant Civil War record and was hot-tempered, tactless and, on the basis of his experiences in trying to further his work with the Indians, firmly convinced that the Indian Bureau was staffed by creatures scarcely human. He had good reasons for this view—the bureau provided scarcely any funds but plenty of criticism. There was barely enough money for day-to-day survival, and none at all for refinements at the Indian School. There were no gymnasium and no playing field except a sloping tract of stony ground beside Le-Tort Springs Run, a stream that flowed beside the school.
In 1892 Anna Luckenbaugh, one of the teachers, persuaded her friend Vance McCormick to teach the Indians to play football. McCormick, who lived near Carlisle, was the quarterback of the Yale eleven. He made up a Carlisle team that included Lone Wolf, center; Metoxan, fullback; Bemus Pierce (later a famous pro football star), guard; and Frank Hudson at quarterback, the man who subsequently as a superlative drop-kicker became the first nationally famous Carlisle star.
McCormick drilled his Indians in the rocky pasture, and found them phenomenally promising. But, contrary to the legend, the Carlisle teams did not begin to win at their first sight of a pigskin. All told, in their first 10 years of the white man's strangest and most complicated sport, the Carlisle Indians won only 40 games.
STRANGE NEW NAMES
Three other Yale football players after Vance McCormick served as part-time coaches of the Indians: William Hickok, William Bull and Harry Hale. Though not yet an effective team, the Indians began to produce stars, and new names appeared in American sport, strange and exotic: Isaac Seneca (who was on Walter Camp's All-America team), Little Boy, Owl, Brave Thunder, Fast Bear, Two Hearts, Lone Star, Wauseka, Lubo, Frank Mt. Pleasant, Exendine and Charles Dillon, who is credited with having had the ball under his sweater in the famous hidden ball trick that was first used against Harvard. The citizens of Carlisle, many of whom had first viewed the coming of the Indians with some misgivings, became ardent supporters of the Indian School. They unanimously backed General Pratt in his ceaseless battles with the Indian Bureau. Miss Moore, through her friendship with the brilliant daughters of Dr. George Norcross, the minister of the Second Presbyterian Church of Carlisle and a famous historian, had met the general and his family and was also one of his ardent backers.
She did not go so far as some Carlisle children who grew up believing that plumes of smoke from burning sulphur and brimstone floated over the government buildings in Washington, but she did, like most of her contemporaries, make heroes of the Indian athletes. Indeed, the social life of Carlisle generally became imbued with the Indians' victories, as they mounted up, in a fashion that would have been incredible under other circumstances. "We were just proud of them," Miss Moore says. "The whole town was."
Then, in 1899, Glenn Warner was appointed the first permanent coach, and the great teams, rather than the great individual stars alone, began to emerge as a new phenomenon in football.
A VISIT FROM GERONIMO
By this time the teaching in the school had reached the equivalent of that of the early college years. Enrollment was stabilized at about 1,100 students, some 600 to 700 boys and around 400 girls. They ranged from the earliest grades to college years. The school colors were red and gold. There was an excellent magazine, The Red Man, a famous Carlisle Indian band, four literary and debating societies and a constant procession of distinguished lecturers and entertainers. And finally, a crowning glory to General Pratt's tenaciousness and the Indians' achievements, the great chief Geronimo himself came to Carlisle. The old fox stood before the students and said: "The Lord made my heart good. I feel good wherever I go. I feel good now as I stand before you. You are here to study, to learn the ways of the white men. Do it well. Obey all orders. Do as you are told all the time and you won't get hungry. He who owns you holds you in His hands like that, and He carries you around like a baby. That is all I have to say to you."
When the future of the school seemed brightest, General Pratt made a speech in which he called the officials of the Indian Bureau "barnacles." He had previously called them just about everything else, but this proved to be too much: he was summarily retired. Whether or not there was any real danger that the school would be given up, feeling persisted in Carlisle that it might be. It had always operated at a deficit; the government appropriation was never enough to support it. General Pratt's standing was such that he had been able to get donations from religious and charitable bodies to keep it functioning.
But the athletic association had accumulated money, and the Indians, now on their own initiative, turned large sums over to the Indian Bureau administration as an emergency fund to be used as needed. How much is not stated, but it was evidently considerable. The Indians restored the old Carlisle barracks—fine, Federal-period buildings—and improved the grounds. They built Indian Field, a good modern field on the stony tract where the first Indians learned football. They gave the school a new administration building, a college hospital, a complete print shop with first-class printing equipment, and a new wing to the original group of barracks buildings.
All of this Miss Moore saw from the perspective of a schoolgirl at Metzger. When she graduated she went to Bryn Mawr, where, by some academic mischance, she was accounted backward in English in college, and never got better than a C. But she amused herself and her friends with little poems:
If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then,
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.
After graduating in 1909, she returned to Carlisle to study typing and shorthand with the country boys and girls at a business college. Her first job was with Melvil Dewey, the originator of the Dewey Decimal System for classifying books in libraries. That fall the commercial English teacher at Carlisle "suddenly wearied of pedagogy," as she remembers it, "and departed to sell L. C. Smith typewriters." She was offered the job, the authorities indicating, with many misgivings, that they only made the offer because they had no one else to turn to. Miss Moore was reading Tolstoy, Turgenev, Henry James and George Meredith, and, while she had no fear of the Indians, she did have doubts of her ability to solve the arithmetic problems that she would be required to teach.
"I was really interested in theoretical math," she said, "—geometry and algebra, and high finance, I mean. But I couldn't do rapid calculation. I always made some simple mistake, especially with decimals and fractions. And then there were all those terrible problems about a train going 10 miles an hour, and a man walking five miles an hour!"
She has a vivid recollection of walking up and down the tennis court, and deciding that she would not take the post. Her brother pointed out the moral obligation—their mother had taught school for years to educate them. He also promised to help with the arithmetic.
LEGENDS AND LEARNING
So Miss Moore found herself pedaling her bicycle every morning to the history-haunted grounds of the Indian School. The academic day began there with reveille at 6 but, as Miss Moore did not live in the barracks, she was not required to be in her classroom until 8:30. Her classes, besides arithmetic, included typing and stenography and commercial law. This last was a special course with a textbook written only for Carlisle students, designed to teach the Indians about contracts and similar matters, to prevent their being defrauded when they got back to the reservations. It was in this course, principally, that Miss Moore came to know people like Thorpe and Welch.
At noon she pedaled home for lunch, went back for afternoon classes, returning again after dinner for the evening study hour that was terminated by taps. Then a thousand or so Indian boys and girls from as many as 90 different tribes, most of them youngsters who were a long way from the Crow or the Rosebud or the Puyallup reservation, far from desert buttes and rain forests, were locked in their quarters. Miss Moore, as always unafraid, calmly rode home in the darkness.
So Miss Moore's life went for five years while her pupils wrote a living legend in the record books of sport. She herself, in her own self-effacing way, does not associate herself with their deeds or even with the school's extraordinary purpose and achievements. "I felt myself to be an impostor there," she said. "I was soldiering; it really wasn't my work. And I did so little."
AN AWE-INSPIRING LEAP
The truth is that the Indians in that period had embarked on an almost awe-inspiring leap for greatness. There was an element of grandeur, something almost mythological, in the rise of the Carlisle Indians to national and then to world fame of that time. When the school was started, they were despised, feared, hated, exploited, fought—and while the achievement of Thorpe and his teammates could not end that altogether, they certainly worked a transformation in the attitude of the nation as a whole toward the red men. And the Indians had an incentive to save their people as poignant as any in history. Isaac Seneca, for instance, came from a New York tribe that was down to 2,700 survivors. There were only about 600 left in the Oklahoma tribe to which Jim Thorpe belonged. Their tribes were perishing, and the epic striving of the Carlisle Indians was a last great effort to reach the unattainable, like one of the old Indian legends that were printed in The Red Man, telling of a brave who is forced to strive into the further reaches of outer space, to the most distant stars, to try to save his people. Lacking a common myth for all the tribes gathered in their white man's school, they did something better than study the old myths—they created a new one of their own, the myth of the Carlisle Indians, cast in the same grand pattern of the ageless myths they had been told.
According to Warner, there were never more than 50 boys at Carlisle big enough and strong enough to play football. The entire coaching staff consisted of Warner, a bookkeeper to keep track of the immense gate receipts, and an Oneida Indian named Wallace Denny, the trainer, who was also night watchman of the school. The 1912 team, Thorpe's greatest, played 10 games in 42 days, almost every player playing the whole game, and Thorpe himself never once taking time out. This was the team that beat Army at West Point 27-6, the mysterious game that is so shrouded in controversy it is doubtful if its facts will ever become clear. The accepted story is that Thorpe took the kickoff, and went through Army for a touchdown; the Indians were called offside, and the ball brought back, and when Army kicked again Thorpe again ran for a touchdown.... Whatever really happened, the mystery and the legends are an appropriate part of the mythological quality of the Indians' performance at that time.
END OF THE SPARTAN REGIME
Only two games were lost in 1913, but the peak of the Indians' effort had been passed. Their performance in 1914 was only routine. In the next few years, their reputation completely disappeared. A new administration of Indian Bureau officials had taken over, weekly dances were held at the barracks, and with the changed emphasis from the old Spartan regime, Carlisle's great athletic reputation melted away. In 1917, for instance, Navy defeated the Indians 61-0, and Georgia Tech beat them by the worst score they ever had tallied against them: 98-0.
When the United States entered World War I, the Army took over the barracks for military use, and the school was closed. Miss Moore, by that time, had left Carlisle with her mother to follow her brother, who had studied for the clergy, to his first church. She won her first critical acclaim, in an English literary magazine, when she left the Indian School. When her brother joined the Navy in 1917, Miss Moore and her mother settled in a New York apartment, and she worked for the public library system until she became editor of The Dial, perhaps the most distinguished literary magazine ever published, remaining in charge of it until it ceased publication in the Depression years.
The poetry which made her famous had nothing of the Indians in it; her literary following was won by her marvelous nature poems, works about zebras, oxen, shellfish, poems about love and marriage, horses, steam rollers, geography—a new form of poetic expression, always exquisitely finished and possessing a sort of delicate naturalness and a casual and yet studied charm. She wrote of a rider with his hands in the mane of his horse:
round which the arms had
wound themselves as if they knew love
is the only fortress
strong enough to trust to.
That is her poetry, with her own incredibly subtle rhymes, like round and wound at the beginning rather than at the end of the lines, the sort of poetry that has made her almost venerated among younger writers and has won her, among many others, the Pulitzer Prize.
She says that she never wrote anything about the Indian School because it never really became a part of her life. Perhaps this, too, is due to her own modesty and deprecation of the small role she played there; her memories of it are certainly still vivid. "On Memorial Day I took my classes to the Indian cemetery," she says, "and we cut the grass with sickles. Then when the students all went to the circus"—here she paused, as if trying to find words that would prevent any misunderstanding or exaggeration—"someone had to chaperone them. I was chosen chaperone. Rain was threatening on circus day, and I carried a parasol. James approached me and said, 'Miss Moore, may I carry your parasol?' That was the way he was." In all her recollections, there is a profound unaware-ness of the impression that she makes on other people, and contemporaries who know her as one of the most delightful personalities in the history of American literature can appreciate more than Miss Moore the impression she must have made on the Indians. It is plain that she lived something like poetry on their campus—just as the Indians, with no myth of their own, created a new one.
HOMETOWN PIECE FOR MESSRS. ALSTON AND REESE
To the tune:
"Li'l baby, don't say a word: Mama goin' to buy you a mocking-bird.
Bird don't sing: Mama goin' to sell it and buy a brass ring."
"Millennium," yes; "pandemonium"!
Roy Campanella leaps high. Dodgerdom
crowned, had Johnny Podres on the mound.
Buzzie Bavasi and the Press gave ground;
the team slapped, mauled, and asked the Yankees' match,
"How did you feel when Sandy Amoros made the catch?"
"I said to myself"—pitcher for all innings—
"as I walked back to the mound I said, 'Everything's
getting better and better.' " (Zest, they've zest.
" 'Hope springs eternal in the Brooklyn breast.' "
And would the Dodger Band in 8, row 1, relax
if they saw the collector of income tax?
Ready with a tune if that should occur:
"Why Not Take All of Me—All of Me, Sir?")
Another series. Round-tripper Duke at bat,
"Four hundred feet from home-plate"; more like that.
A neat bunt, please; a cloud-breaker, a drive
like Jim Gilliam's great big one. Hope's alive.
Homered, flied out, fouled? Our "stylish stout"
so nimble Campanella will have him out.
A-squat in double-headers four hundred times a day,
he says that in a measure the pleasure is the pay:
catcher to pitcher, a nice easy throw
almost as if he'd just told it to go.
Willy Mays should be a Dodger. He should—
a lad for Roger Craig and Clem Labine to elude;
but you have an omen, pennant-winning Peewee,
on which we are looking superstitiously.
Ralph Branca has Preacher Roe's number; recall?
and there's Don Bessent; he can really fire the ball.
as for Gil Hodges, in custody of first—
"He'll do it by himself." Now a specialist versed
in an extension reach far into the box seats—
he lengthens up, he leans, and gloving the ball defeats
expectation by a whisker. The modest star,
irked by one misplay, is no hero by a hair;
in a strikeout slaughter when what could matter more,
he lines a homer to the signboard and has changed the score.
Then for his nineteenth season, a home run—
with four of six runs batted in—Carl Furillo's the big gun;
almost dehorned the foe—has fans dancing in delight.
Jake Pitler and his Playground "get a Night"—
Jake, that hearty man, made heartier by a harrier
who can bat as well as field—Don Demeter.
Shutting them out for nine innings—a hitter too—
Carl Erskine leaves Cimoli nothing to do.
Take off the goat-horns, Dodgers, that egret
which two very fine base-stealers can offset.
You've got plenty: Jackie Robinson
and Campy and big Newk, and Dodgerdom again
watching everything you do. You won last year.
¬© Marianne Moore, 1956. Reprinted from "O To Be a Dragon," Viking, 1959 ($2.75).