Examples of notably good or notably bad chess poetry are always of interest. A high scorer in the latter category is the following, which ‘H.T.B.’ (Henry Thomas Bland) managed to have published on page 64 of the March 1930 American Chess Bulletin:
Miss Menchik is of master rank,
It seems Maróczy she’s to thank;
Still, there is little doubt of it
She owes a deal to native wit.
Much knowledge she has garnered in,
E’en ’gainst the giants she’ll oft win
– No doubt sometimes to their chagrin –
Chess champion of the gentler sex
Here’s luck to her! Should she annex
In her next venture some big prize
Keen critics will feel no surprise.
(Kingpin, 1992 and pages 197-198 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves)
A further sample of the dithyrambic skills of H.T. Bland. On page 207 of the December 1929 American Chess Bulletin he exalted the challenger in that year’s world championship match:
Bravo ‘Bogol’, you’ve shown pluck.
One and all we wish you luck.
Gee, some thought you’d barged between
Other players who’d have been
Less likely straightaway to lose
Just as friend Alekhine might choose;
Undaunted, ‘Bogol’, you went in
Believing you’d a chance to win.
Or failing that, to make a fight,
Which you are doing as we write.
(Kingpin, 1994 and page 198 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves)
The name H.T. Bland (1858-1932) is already known to our regular readers on account of his egregious verse, but in the offering below he truly lives down to his name:
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.
Source: American Chess Bulletin, January 1931, page 13.
(Kingpin, 2000 and page 396 of A Chess Omnibus)
Catherine Glynn (Southampton, England) asks for information about the chess writer and poet Henry Thomas Bland.
Another example of his way with words is the start of ‘Internal Fires’, a poem published on page 57 of the March 1930 American Chess Bulletin:
I used to play chess with the dearest old chap,
Whom naught could upset whatever might hap.
He’d oft lose a game he might well have won
But made no excuse for what he had done.
If a piece he o’erlooked and got it snapped up
He took it quite calmly and ne’er ‘cut up rough’.
On page 81 of the May-June 1929 Bulletin his work even received star billing:
The Bulletin published many other specimens of his dodgy dogged doggerel, and his prose contributions included an inconsequential feature on Blackburne (March 1929, pages 46-47) and two brief, vapid sets of ‘Chess Memories’ (March 1930, page 51 and April 1930, page 75). That year Bland produced a compilation of his verse and prose, under the title Chess in Lighter Vein. Dishearteningly, the 48-page brochure was welcomed not only by the Bulletin (September-October 1930, page 154) but also by the BCM (August 1930, page 280). The self-publication was available from Bland at 25 Harvey Road, Wallasey, Cheshire, England.
On page 184 of the November 1931 Bulletin Bland referred to ‘my late brother, Mr W.R. Bland’ having been responsible for chess problems in the BCM under the magazine’s first editor, John Watkinson.
Henry Thomas Bland, American Chess Bulletin, September-October 1932, page 147
H.T. Bland died in 1932. Jeremy Gaige’s Chess Personalia (private 1994 edition) states that he was born in Belper [Derbyshire], England in the first quarter of 1858, and from the records available at the Family Search website we take him to be the Henry Thomas Bland who was born on 3 March 1858 and christened in Duffield, Derby on 30 April. (His elder brother, William Robert, died in Duffield in 1929; see the BCM, April 1929, page 132.)
If that information is correct, the American Chess Bulletin misstated H.T. Bland’s age (‘70 years of age when he died’) in the obituary published on page 147 of its September-October 1932 issue. Following details supplied by his brother-in-law, Mr A. Dalby of South Hill Park, London, the Bulletin added that Bland ‘was born near Derby and worked in the secretary’s office on the Midland Railway. ... After his retirement from the railway some years ago, he had lived in Southport and London’. It may, though, be wondered whether ‘Southport’ is correct, since Gaige lists him as having died in Stockport.
The Bulletin recorded that Bland died a few days after attending the chess congress in Cambridge. We note that he played in the Second Class tournament there, finishing last with a score of +1 –7 =0 (BCM, May 1932, page 196).
On page 27 of Chess in Lighter Vein Bland published another poem about Vera Menchik:
Referring to Oscar Wilde on page 261 of the December 1953 Chess World, C.J.S. Purdy wrote ‘Wylde’. The misspelling brought forth a clever correction from a reader, R. Jackson, on page 8 of the January 1954 issue:
Why do you spell Wilde with a Y?
Was not the man lord of the I?
Now he shouts from the Shades,
Whether furnace or glades,
‘Purdytion take Purdi’s damned Y’.
(Chess Café, 1998 and page 255 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves)
Page 48 of the February 1967 Chess World had an article
entitled ‘Chess Clerihews’ (‘by “Chielamangus” and Wife’). The
poems featured, among others, Ozols, Endzelins, Fuller and Purdy.
Some textual corrections were published on page 64 of the
March-April 1967 issue. See too page 125 of the July-August 1967 Chess
Wordsworth Donisthorpe (1847-1914) may be the only person to have suffered ‘censorship’ over a chess poem. Pages 138-139 of the January 1895 Chess Monthly published a ‘British Chess Club Alphabet’. Two extracts:
B stands for Bernard, the chessplayers’ Nemesis;
For daily and nightly he lives on the premises.
R stands for Reeves, whom the public entrusts,
With the busting of openings and opening of busts.
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.
(Chess Café, 1998 and page 255 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves)
This photograph of Wordsworth Donisthorpe was published on page 97 of the December 1890 Chess Monthly, and the following page had a biographical note on his chess career and non-chess writings. Below is the full text of his poem as published in the Chess Monthly:
As mentioned in our earlier item, the brief feature below appeared on page 127 of the March 1925 BCM:
A.M. Fox returned to the subject in an article ‘Reminiscences of the British Chess Club’ on pages 34-35 of the February 1941 BCM, stating that Klein was ‘a bacteriologist at St Bartholomew’s Hospital’ and ‘quite a good player’. The couplet on Reeves was explained as follows:
‘Mr H.A. Reeves was by profession a surgeon with a large clientele among ladies, and he was known in the chess world by his insistence that the move P-KB4, as the fourth move in the Ruy López, was the best defence.’
Some Editors – pretend to edit –
Use scissors and paste and give no credit.
Source: Columbia Chess Chronicle, 20 August 1887, page 66.
The Chronicle credited this to the Celtic Times, but gave no further particulars.
Nicolò Valdettaro (Milan, Italy) writes:
‘The poem “Deep Chess” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of the most famous poets of the “beat generation” and one of the few still alive today, was published in his 1976 book Who Are We Now?’
From our collection:
Our verse books also include a pair with similar titles to each other – Poems and Chess Problems by J.A. Miles (Fakenham, 1882) and Poems and Problems by V. Nabokov (New York, 1970) – and the following:
Chess game and other poems by J. De Lemarter (1952)
The Poetry of Chess by A. Waterman (London, 1981)
Veinte Sonetos para el Ajedrez by F. Neri (Oviedo, 1985)
Ulmericks by F. Grupp and R. Nuber (Ludwigsburg and Ulm, 1989)
Ajedrez by R. Paseyro (Madrid, 1998)
Chess Pieces by D. Solway (Montreal & Kingston, 1999).
An addition to the above list is Chess: A Poem, in Four Parts by Charles Tomlinson (London, 1854). Our copy was inscribed by Miron J. Hazeltine.
In the present item, however, we wish to focus on Miron Hazeltine’s wife (whose pseudonym was Phania). From page 33 of the February 1905 American Chess Bulletin:
‘Mrs Hazeltine, whose maiden name was Hannah M. Bryant, a relative of the late William Cullen Bryant, is a poet of no mean ability and she has steadily striven to advance the cause of the husband’s favorite game through her pretty sentiments quaintly set in rhyme. The December number of the Bulletin contained a special contribution from this gifted admirer of Caissa. Mr and Mrs Hazeltine celebrated the 50th anniversary of their marriage on 20 July 1903.’
From page 133 of the December 1904 American Chess Bulletin
In announcing Miron Hazeltine’s death, the April 1907 issue of the Bulletin (page 81) stated:
‘In a spirit of resignment and with abiding faith, she writes thus of her husband’s decease: “After traveling as partners in the rough ways of life for almost 54 years, my husband, wearied and spent, has just stopped for rest at a wayside inn, while I still struggle forward to a station just beyond, where, I, too, shall lay down the burden and we shall be forever at rest.”’
Another of her poems had appeared on pages 182-183 of the New York, 1880 tournament book: ‘To the Knights of the Fifth American Chess Congress by Mrs H. Bryant Hazeltine.’ It was reproduced on page 147 of Thomas Frère and the Brotherhood of Chess by Martin Frère Hillyer (Jefferson, 2007), and page 149 presented a portrait of her, dated 1860. The book gave her forename as Harriet rather than Hannah.
The above poem ‘A Winning Game’ was published, together with seven others on chess (‘An Enigma’, ‘Check-Mate’, ‘Chess Teachings’, ‘Chess Similes’, ‘My Problem’, ‘Caissa’s Field of the Cloth of Gold’ and ‘The Final Game’), in the very scarce book The Poems of Hannah Bryant Hazeltine (Concord, 1910).
The biographical note on pages 1-2 included the following information:
‘Hannah Bryant Hazeltine was born in New Boston, NH, 20 August 1827. She was the youngest of a family of seven children born to Asa and Mehitable Snow Bryant, her father being in direct descent from Stephen Bryant, the first of the Bryant name to settle in the Old Colony in its early days. Philip Bryant, the father of William Cullen Bryant, the most noted member of the Bryant line, was first cousin to Asa Bryant ...
When about 19 years of age, in a literary society of which they both were members, Miss Bryant became acquainted with Miron J. Hazeltine, whom she afterward married. Being possessed of a good degree of poetical taste, Mr Hazeltine became interested in his wife’s intellectual pursuits and was of great assistance to her in some of her literary endeavors.
The first decade of their married life was spent in New York City, where Mr Hazeltine conducted a successful school, Mrs Hazeltine being his assistant and helper for the next two or three years ...
About the year 1862 Mr Hazeltine removed his family from New York City to New Hampshire, shortly afterward taking up his abode at The Larches, in Thornton, NH, which is the present residence of Mrs Hazeltine and still bears the name by her conferred upon it. ...
Mrs Hazeltine has four living children ...’
The book also contained these two photographs:
Our copy of The Poems of Hannah Bryant Hazeltine contains a handwritten dedication by her:
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.
Source: page 58 of Poems and Chess Problems by J.A. Miles (Fakenham, 1882). The same page also had an 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.
The following acrostic by W. Harris is to be found in another book published in 1882, A Complete Guide to the Game of Chess by H.F.L. Meyer, 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!
A syrupy acrostic tribute to ‘Reuben Fine’ was given by John L. Foster on page 372 of the December 1943 Chess Review. Page 73 of Chess Pie, 1922 had a ‘double acrostic’ of such complexity that we propose to move on quickly to a related topic, chronograms, which were the subject of a brief feature by J.H.E. on page 199 of the May 1896 BCM. It gave what was thought to be the first chronogram on chess, which described the recent St Petersburg tournament:
Four eXperts o’er the Chess boarD fIght,
AnD Lasker VVon by pLay so brIght:
TarrasCh Left out, the thIng’s In Doubt,
VVho has the VVInner’s rIght to shout.
Mightiest of masters of the chequer’d board,
Of early genius high its boasted lord!
Rising in youth’s bright morn to loftiest fame,
Princeliest of players held with one acclaim;
Host in thyself – all-conquering in fight: –
Yankees exult! – in your great champion’s might.
The following double acrostic (i.e. with identical letters starting and ending each line) by W.A. Ballantine was given 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.
On page viii of The Golden Treasury of Chess (New York and Philadelphia, 1943) F.J. Wellmuth gave an acrostic poem he had written on ‘Harry Nelson Pillsbury’ in 1902.
(Kingpin 2000 and pages 388-389 of A Chess Omnibus)
The poem by Miles which began ‘Like new-laid eggs ...’ was also given on page 230 of the June 1882 BCM, together with this composition by W.F. Payne of Abingdon:
Behold, disastrous fate, a Problem cooked!
’Tis like some Castle safe from front attack,
To which, a little loophole overlooked,
A Knight gains fatal entrance at the back.
Miles’ book Poems and Chess Problems also had acrostical
compositions based on ‘Miron and Phania’ (page 53), ‘Anderssen’
(page 57) and ‘Wilhelm Steinitz’ (page 110). The last of these was
published too on page 285 of the September 1882 BCM. Pages
347 and 348 of the magazine’s October 1882 issue had poems on
‘Paul Morphy’ and ‘Howard Staunton’, by Frideswide F. Beechey and
Robert Bennett respectively.
This acrostic poem by W. Williams was published on page 275 of the Chess Player’s Chronicle, 29 November 1890:
Bridging the gap between poetry and humour, in theory at least, is the limerick. Here is one 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.
(Kingpin 2000 and page 396 of A Chess Omnibus)
The following limerick, entitled ‘The Solver’s Plight’ was by ‘A.J.F.’ and was published on page 22 of Chess Potpourri by Alfred C. Klahre (Middletown, 1931):
There was a man from Vancouver
Who tried to solve a two-mover;
But the boob, he said, ‘“Gee”,
I can’t find the “Kee”,
No matter HOW I manouvre.’
(A Chess Omnibus, page 396)
A is the Gambit, by Allgaier found out,
B is the Bishop, so warlike and stout;
C is our Chess – the glorious game,
D is Defeat, with its sorrow and shame;
E is the Evans, a famous attack,
F is the False-move we wish to take back;
G is a Gambit, full of startling delight,
H is the Houses of black and of white,
I is to Interpose in the midst of the fight;
J is J’adoube, which the careless must say,
K is the King, the soul of the play;
L is the López, the Gambit so old,
M is the Muzio, adventurous and bold;
N is the Notes, explaining our play,
O is the Opening, at the first of the fray;
P is a Pawn, marching boldly ahead,
Q is the Queen, mighty and dread;
R is the Rook, a warrior of weight,
S is a Stale, an unfortunate Mate;
T is a Tournay, where the weakest must yield,
U is to Unite our pawns in the field;
V is Variation, which black overlooks,
W is White, who moves first in the books;
X is Xantippe, the meanest of mates,
Y is to Yield, resigned to our fates;
Z is Zatrikiology, a game,
& an art of endurable fame.
Source: Chess Monthly, November 1860, page 348.
(Kingpin, 2001 and pages 401-402 of A Chess Omnibus)
This poem by Charles Murray comes from page 86 of Some Problems For My Friends by D.G. McIntyre (Cape Town, 1957):
Variety’s infinite zest
In Caissa we most adore:
Chess Masters! Heed our request!
Don’t always play pawn to Queen’s four.
And well ’twould be if chess alone
Disputes ’twixt nations settle could,
Instead of pawns of flesh and bone,
The men of ivory or wood.
Source: the Chess Amateur, October 1914, page 19. The poet was ‘W.S.B.’, i.e. William Shelley Branch.
Readers have been spared a sample of the poetry of Anthony Santasiere for long enough, so we now turn to pages 24-25 of The Year Book of the United States Chess Federation 1944 (Chicago, 1945), which published ‘Brave Heart’, Santasiere’s tribute to Frank J. Marshall. Written in August 1942 for Marshall’s 65th birthday, it 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!
C.N. 2967 discussed the poetry of A.E. Santasiere, quoting a clemently brief sample. It may be added that page 3 of Santasiere’s book Essay on Chess (Dallas, 1972) stated that among his output ‘there are three volumes of poetry; one of essays’. On page 160 of the March 1977 Chess Life & Review Santasiere’s obituary contained the assertion ‘at least three volumes of verse’. Have any readers seen them?
The most inconsequential and empty chess volume in our collection is The End Game by Marvin Howard Albert (Alexandria Press and Print, Seattle, 1966). The entire contents, page by page, are as follows:
Blank (except for copyright notice)
A 15-line poem
An eight-line Lasker quote and part of a chess design
Title (The End Game) and part of a chess design
A 14-line poem
Blank (except for a notice that the print-run was 22 numbered copies)
A four-line quote from “Herman (sic) Hesse”
Back cover (caption for an Alekhine v Capablanca position, with the diagram missing).
The End Game being eminently discardable, we wonder whether many of the 21 other copies are still extant.
On page 109 of the May 1956 Chess World M.E. Goldstein stated that Savielly Tartakower (‘a many-sided genius’) had been ‘a competent poet in Russian, German and French’. Wanted: further information.
From Hans Kmoch’s obituary of Tartakower on pages 123-125 of Chess Review, April 1956:
‘Few people knew how much he liked poetry – poetry in all the three languages of which he had perfect command: Russian, German and French, to say nothing of Latin and Greek. Translating poems was his secret hobby.’
From Alexei Shirov (Riga):
‘Towards the end of the 1990s, or possibly in 1995-96, the Russian magazine Shahmatny Vestnik published an article on Tartakower’s poetry in Russian, giving the text of some poems (which were rather average in my view, but by no means bad) and also citing Nikolai Gumilev (a well-known Russian poet), who expressed a rather high opinion of Tartakower’s literary abilities.’
Can a reader trace the article in question and kindly send us a copy?
From Richard Forster (Winterthur, Switzerland) and Tomasz Lissowski (Warsaw):
‘Sergei Voronkov discussed Tartakower’s poetic achievements in an article on pages 45-47 of the 3/1998 Shakhmatny v Rossii. He also referred to another article on Tartakower by Yuri Arkhipov in 64 – Shakhmatnoe Obozrenie, 5/1987, pages 24-26.
In 1911 Tartakower had a 56-page booklet Neskol’ko stikhotvorenii (“A few poems”) published in the edition “Nauka i zhizn’” in Rostov-on-Don. It consisted of two parts: “Dissonansy” (22 eight-line compositions) and “Accordy” (13 longer poems). The well-known critic Nikolai Gumilev reviewed it in the literary magazine Apollon (No. 10, 1911; the review was subsequently reprinted in Gumilev’s “articles and notes on Russian poetry”). He found that Tartakower was a true poet, with focussed thoughts and great inner experience. On the other hand, he noted: “But he has no feeling for the Russian language; worse still, he does not know it! His syntax is impossible, his vocabulary preposterous.” Gumilev concluded that Tartakower would do better to write his poems in Yiddish, “and then his poems would be much more interesting to read in translation”.
Voronkov further showed that, contrary to what most (Western) sources state, the pogrom in which Tartakower’s parents were killed occurred not in 1899 but in 1911 (although the infamous and best-known Jewish pogroms in Rostov took place in 1905). Tartakower refers to this in one of his own poems (our translation):One More, The Final Dissonance
(on the death of the parents)
A whole century of surrenders, tears, and strains.
And for whom? For children, who live safe
In foreign lands. If you ask them:
“Easy life, eh, old men?”, “Yes” – they answer.
Returning home in the early morning
I took and opened the telegram: “Your parents killed.”
I hurried. I buried. The iron plates
of two bloody graves lie on my heart.
The fact that Tartakower’s poems were published in Rostov in 1911 suggests that despite attending a college in Geneva and spending much of the first decade of the twentieth century in Vienna, he was still maintaining ties with his native city at that time.
Tartakower translated numerous Russian poems into French and German for various journals. In 1922 and 1923 he had two anthologies published in Berlin with poems which he had translated into Russian. Another one (Das russische Revolutionsgesicht, published around 1923) was devoted to contemporary Russian poetry translated into German. In later years, when publishing poems of his own Tartakower assumed the name “Rewokatrat” , i.e. Tartakower in reverse.
With his obscure Russian brochure Antologiya lunnykh poetov (“Anthology of lunar poets”) “Rewokatrat” even attracted the attention of Vladimir Nabokov. The great writer’s final verdict, however, was quite devastating: “Write, but do not think it is poetry.” (Review in the Russian-language paper Rul’ (Berlin), 6 June 1928. See also Nabokov’s collected Russian-language works in five volumes, St Petersburg 1999-2000, volume 2, pages 660-661.)
Voronkov’s article gave a number of Tartakower’s poems from 1911 and discussed his whereabouts during the First World War. He also mentioned Tartakower’s brother Artur (cf. C.N. 3946), who was one year his junior and also a law student at Vienna University. He died on 19 November 1914 on the battle-ground near Katowice (in Silesia, then a part of the German Empire and nowadays in Southern Poland).’
Two chess poems by Tartakower in German were published on page 74 of Kagans [or sometimes, as here, Kagan’s] Neueste Schachnachrichten, January 1922 and on page 170 of the April 1922 issue:
David Lovejoy (Mullumbimby, NSW, Australia) suggests that the Robespierre item given in C.N. 4467 may have been the source for Tartakower’s poem ‘1793’. It was presented in C.N. 4278 courtesy of Pierre Bourget (Beauport, Canada), from the Morning Chronicle (Quebec) of 19 April 1893:
For another version of this story, see pages 161-163 of Chess Pieces by Norman Knight (London, 1949).
A contribution from Michael Negele (Wuppertal, Germany) concerns a non-chess book by Tartakower, Das russische Revolutionsgesicht (Vienna, 1923).
On page 298 of the October 1951 Chess Review Bruce Hayden wrote:
‘My friend and fellow club member, Daniel Costello [sic], is a great enthusiast and even greater wit.’
This was Daniel Castello, who died in 1980 and was mentioned as follows by R.G. Wade on page 527 of the October 1980 BCM:
‘D. Castello will be remembered for his pains-taking proof-reading of many books – Tartakower described him as “The Prince of Proof-Readers”.’
Whether that remark was made by Tartakower in print we cannot say, but certainly Castello’s proofreading was acknowledged in books by Tartakower and by du Mont. Moreover, Tartakower’s A Breviary of Chess (London, 1937) contained English-language versions by Castello of a number of short poems (‘quatrains’) by Jules Lazard. Available on-line at various websites, they are well worth reading, in both French and English.
In part 128 of Bréviaire des échecs (the page number varies from one edition to another) Tartakower introduced a section on Lazard’s verse as follows:
‘De diverses conceptions du jeu des Echecs. Les vers sont extraits du recueil Echéphiles et Echémanes de Jules Lazard.’
The publication details of Echéphiles et Echémanes are being sought, as is further information about Lazard. In the meantime we note that on pages 443-444 of issue 14 of Les Cahiers de l’Echiquier Français (1928) Lazard proposed three words to describe chessplayers:
‘Echéphiles – Amis du noble jeu.
Echémanes – Ceux qui le jouent sans trop le connaître, qui jouent avec les échecs et non aux échecs.
Echéphobes – Les ennemis du jeu.’
The periodical then gave the following poem by Lazard, which includes a reference to woodpushing:
A brief feature on Berthold Lasker from page 84 of Die Schachspieler und ihre Welt by Arpad Bauer (Berlin, 1911):
A chess author who has written a book of poetry is Edward R. Brace. Devils to Ourselves (Towanda, 1981) is shown below:
Here we mention the work of James Russell Lowell. Page 220 of David Lawson’s biography of Paul Morphy The Pride and Sorrow of Chess (New York, 1976) noted that he ‘composed a poem of some one hundred lines’ for a ceremony in honour of Morphy in 1859. On page 93 of Grandmasters of Chess (Philadelphia and New York, 1973) Harold Schonberg quoted eight lines from what ‘could easily lay claim to being the worst poem in the English language’.
Rival claims are welcome.
Avital Pilpel (Haifa, Israel) mentions The Great Pawn Hunter Chess Tutorial (subtitle: Stories, Poetry and Games) by Manus Patrick Fealy (Bloomington and Milton Keynes, 2006). There are indeed many spectacularly unprintworthy specimens in what is, of course, yet another ‘vanity press’ production. In earlier, happier, days, such material might merely have been chalked on the pavement.
James Pierce (1833-1892) brought out two anthologies of poems, Stanzas and Sonnets (London, 1887) and In Cloud and Sunshine (London, 1890). He was relatively prolific and, for example, the former volume concluded (pages 181-198) with a substantial section of poems on chess which had appeared in the BCM.
Pete Tamburro (Morristown, NJ, USA) refers to a poem by Alfred Kreymborg which was published on page 4 of his book Manhattan Men (New York, 1929) and on page 194 of The Selected Poems 1912-1944 of Alfred Kreymborg (New York, 1945):
William Jones (1746-1794) wrote the ‘Caissa poem’ while in his teens, in 1763. It was published in 1772, and in his Preface he remarked:
‘It will be needless, I hope, to apologize for the Pastoral, and the poem upon Chess, which were done as early as at the age of 16 or 17 years, and were saved from the fire, in preference to a great many others, because they seemed more correctly versified than the rest.’
In quoting the above we are following the text on page 199 of The Poetical Works of Sir William Jones, volume 1 (London, 1810), which had this frontispiece:
Wayne D. Komer (Toronto, Canada) sends a 32-line poem ‘Master-passion’ by Roger Woddis which was published in the New Statesman of 7 July 1972, page 10. It concerned the world championship match in Iceland and was by no means flattering to the American challenger’s conduct or state of mind.
Wanted: information about the poet ‘Veritas’, who brought out A Selection of Poems (Bradford, 1936). Pages 25-46 comprise chess verse.
‘Veritas’ was identified on various pages as B.L. Bowers, and page 3 indicated that he was born on 15 April 1855. As shown above, the title-page stated that the book could be obtained from ‘B.L. Bowers, 24 Aireville Road, Frizinghall, Bradford’, and we note from webpages that today that is the address of a publisher of poetry, the Redbeck Press.
Bradley J. Willis (Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada) quotes a composition from page 136 of Amy Lowell: Selected Poems edited by Honor Moore (New York, 2004):
Moonlight Striking upon a Chess-BoardI am so aching to write
That I could make a song out of a chess-board
And rhyme the intrigues of knights and bishops
And the hollow fate of a checkmated king.
I might have been a queen, but I lack the proper century;
I might have been a poet, but where is the adventure to
Explode me into flame.
Cousin Moon, our kinship is curiously demonstrated,
For I, too, am a bright, cold corpse
Perpetually circling above a living world.
Our correspondent notes that in 1926, the year after her death, Amy Lowell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
She was a cousin of Robert Lowell, two of whose works were given on pages 67-68 of The Poetry of Chess edited by Andrew Waterman (London, 1981).
Around 1800, before he had even entered his teens, Edward Smedley wrote this poem:
Source: Poems by the Late Rev. Edward Smedley, A.M.
(London, 1837), pages 107-108.
An addition to the many C.N. items on poetry is a sequence of compositions on pages 107-118 of Poems, Songs, and Sonnets by William M. Stenhouse (Glasgow, 1886): a five-page poem ‘Telegraphic Chess Contest’ (Christchurch v Dunedin) followed by the sonnets ‘Caissa Regina’, ‘The Pawn’, ‘The Knight’, ‘The Bishop’, ‘The Rook’, ‘The Queen’ and ‘The King’. From page 107:
Stenhouse’s inscription in our copy:
Some biographical information about him is available at a New Zealand webpage on physicians and surgeons.
Some comic verse, ‘Kann That Caro’ by Huxley St John Brooks, from page 171 of the November 1932 American Chess Bulletin:
From CHESS, April 1941, page 99:
From the correspondence section in the June 1952 CHESS, page 180 comes this poem by D.J. Morgan:
Our feature article on Lord Dunsany mentioned that after Capablanca’s death he published the following epitaph in CHESS, June 1942, page 131:
Now rests a mind as keen,
A vision bright and clear
As any that has been
And who is it lies here?
One that, erstwhile, no less
Than Hindenburg could plan,
But played his game of chess
And did no harm to man.
We mentioned that the theme of the harmlessness of chess was taken up again by Lord Dunsany the following year in what is perhaps the finest chess poem ever written. 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;And yet, if all whose hopes were set
The mellow evenings spent at chess,
The thrill, the triumph, and the truce
To every care, are valueless.
On harming man played chess instead,
We should have cities standing yet
Which now are dust upon the dead.
Other chess poems by Lord Dunsany were ‘Where is it?’ (CHESS, June 1943, page 140) and a composition (first line: ‘Silence. And Silence still’) which he recited when opening the Hastings, 1950-51 congress. That latter poem was published on page 33 of the February 1951 BCM, page 6 of the January-February 1951 American Chess Bulletin and page 127 of A Treasury of Chess Lore by Fred Reinfeld (New York, 1951).
Regarding the poetry of Sheriff Walter Cook Spens, see The Pride and Sorrow of Chess.
Below are three poems by B.H. Wood which appeared in the following issues of the Chess Amateur: December 1929 (page 56), January 1930 (page 80) and March 1930 (page 127):
The Chess Cafe I
Here is the life of Chess! – What’s master play
But its post-mortem? Scattered far and near
Are business men at leisure, youths and grey
Ancients, immersed in mental rivalry.
How happily I’m come, for here, to me,
All life is peace; my roll and coffee seem
Food of the gods; the games I play and see
Lit with the hazy luminance of a dream.
Though champions still make a toil of chess, We revel in unsound contentedness.
The Chess Cafe II
When I was young, when I was young,
In chess my soul was buried quite;
Imaginary problems hung
Suspended o’er my bed at night:
In games of chess I gained sublime
Incognisance of space and time.
Now I am old, now I am old,
My furnaces of joy are cold –
My mental galleons, no more
Divine, now cruise a homelier shore.
The Chess Cafe III – The Spectator
Quiet in the corner sitting, not a word
He utters, but, his eyes glued on their board,
Where in oblivion the players brood,
He spends his lifetime’s dearest hours.
Is cold, his lighted pipe goes slowly out ….
Yet when the game ends, when they talk about
Its ins and outs, its characteristic twist,
He’s seen that winning line a master missed!
You ask him for a game – ‘I never play
Myself – hardly a game a year’, he’ll say.
C.N. 8647 gave a slightly earlier poem by B.H. Wood, entitled ‘The Drowser’:
Ah, reverie! Ten thousand heads I see
Bent over chess-boards, an infinity
Of minds engaged in battle, fiendishly,
Keenly, or calmly, as the case may be:
World-wide, the neophyte, the veteran,
The studious problemist, the fairy fan ...
“What’s that? – I’m nearly sending you to sleep?
Sorry! – but this position’s rather deep.”
Source: Chess Amateur, September 1929, page 268.
See too Rupert Brooke and Chess.
Paolo Fiorelli (Cernusco sul Naviglio, Italy) draws attention to a poem by Eugenio Montale, ‘Nuove stanze’. Its first line is ‘Poi che gli ultimi fili di tabacco’.
Alessandro Mossa (Florence, Italy) refers to two sonnets by Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Ajedrez’. They begin ‘En su grave rincón, los jugadores’ and ‘Tenue rey, sesgo alfil, encarnizada’.
A small collection of instructional verse for children is Chess Poems by Michael Kusen (Woodside, 2000):
From page 70 of Ajedrez, March 1930:
How did the game (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 d6 3 Bc4 Nc6 4 Nc3 a6 5 g4 Bxg4 6 Nxe5 Bxd1 7 Bxf7+ Ke7 8 Nd5 mate) come to be ascribed to Morphy?
From Michael Negele (Wuppertal, Germany) comes information about a posthumous anthology of verse by Johann Berger, Liebe erhelle die Zukunft (Graz, 1934):
A poem by H.T. Bland on the demise of the Chess Amateur was published on page 154 of the September-October 1930 American Chess Bulletin. On page 119 of the July-August 1931 issue he contributed a poem entitled ‘The International Chess Team Contest’.
Page 166 of The Personality of Chess by I.A. Horowitz and P.L. Rothenberg (New York, 1963) gave ‘a hitherto unpublished limerick-acrostic, the authorship of which we are ready to confess only if it is well received’:
Caissa, the goddess of Chess,
Has this task, no more and no less;
Every game, match and damn bit,
Sicilian and gambit
She must ever be ready to bless.
The poem given on page 164 of the American Chess Bulletin, November 1933 (see Chess in the Courts) can be traced back to page 34 of The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (London, 1852), in a paper by Nathaniel Bland ‘On the Persian Game of Chess’, read on 19 June 1847:
An oddity is the attribution on page 209 of the American Chess Bulletin, December 1921:
A set of poems on the theme of stalemate was published on pages 129-130 of Brentano’s Chess Monthly, August-September 1882, from the South Australian Chronicle and Mail.
From page 281 of the June 1926 BCM:
Page 241 of the June 1927 BCM referred to ‘T.H. Silcock of Taunton Grammar School’. Information about his later life – Thomas Henry Silcock (1910-83) – can be found on the Internet.
Another poem about Capablanca, by F.P. Hier, was published on page 163 of the September-October 1924 American Chess Bulletin:
From an editorial entitled ‘1943 ...?’ by Jean-Charles de Watteville on pages 1-2 of the Schweizerische Schachzeitung, January 1943:
The footnote on page 1 read ‘Que l’on retrouvera en entier dans la R.S.E. de 1910, p. 144’, but that reference, to the magazine’s French name (Revue suisse d’échecs), had the wrong year. Leonhardt’s poem, ‘Ich spiele Schach!’, was published on page 144 of the August 1912 issue:
An acrostic poem by Roger J. Wright in memoriam of James Rayner was published on page 300 of the July 1898 BCM. It was followed by a four-line poem marking Rayner’s death by Philip H. Williams.
To the Chess Notes main page.
To the Archives for other feature articles.
Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.