Elegy in a Dismal Schoolroom


(The first of the Black Hole Ballads)
(With apologies to Gray)

The school bell tolls the knell of parting day;
The country scholars have gone home by train;
The master homeward plods his weary way,
And we put up the ping-pong net again.

See on the ink-stained table to and fro
The clean white ball of celluloid doth fly,
Now bouncing high, then o’er net skimming low,
Now a false stroke, and hear the general cry.

Now hear the quick and frenzied shouting as
The angry one doth to th’umpire complain,
Disgruntled and annoyed, he thinks he has
The right to play the point over again.

Beneath those flaring lights, the blackboard’s shade,
Where shouts the mob with many an angry cry,
He stands defiant, angry, undismayed,
And stares around, yet with a faltering eye.

As raucous yells the wild incensed crowd,
And his opponent calls from other side,
At ump’s shrill “Carry on!” his spirit proud
Knows that it must by their decision bide.

Now he no more the same mistake will make,
He plays more skilfully with added care;
No more his shots the stretching net will take,
No more will shoot from bat into the air.

Oft have we played far in the gath-ring night,
Until the advanced hour of eve bespoke
Advice to leave until the morrow’s light
Should witness once again a sturdy stroke.

Let not Ambition mock our joyful sport,
Our wayward life and destiny obscure:
Nor Preparation bring a troubled thought
That will us prematurely homeward lure.

The dream of homework and to-morrow’s toil,
And all that masters, all that school e’er taught,
Is far away; doth it tend to spoil not
Our pleasure here? To-morrow counts as nought.

Nor you, ye Swots, remind us of the work
If Memory stirs no chords within our head;
Soon, soon enough we’ll go; we do not shirk
What lies before us ere we seek our beds.

Can Gussy, Bill, or Irish Paddy call
Us to our work when we are at the net?
Can Poony’s threats our eager hearts appal,
Or Bartlett bring to mind what we forget?

But Knowledge to our eyes her ample page,
Rich with First Class Degrees, did ne’er unroll;
Good books did never streak our brows with age
Or freeze our streams of happiness at school.

Perhaps in this scholastic spot is sown
The seed which will in after years bear fruit.
Who knows but what by these few games is born
A ping-pong genius, certain, absolute!

Full many a ball of purest white serene
The red-hot coals of roaring fire doth sear;
Full many a stroke is made to pass unseen
And waste its skill upon the players there!

Some school-boy champion who, with wooden bat,
Doth the skilled cuts of his opponent meet,
Some mute inglorious Lenglen here may pat
The little bouncing ball across the net.

Far from the madding masters’ nimble tongues
Our youthful thoughts are often wont to stray;
Here in the ping-pong club sing we our songs,
And keep the bass and tenor of our way.

In one small mind the game is written big;
A funny little fellow from near by;
He plays from morn till night, cares not a fig
For others who may wish to have a try.

In years to come some aged men may say,
“Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn,
Brushing with his dirty hands away,
To play at table tennis in the morn!”

One day we’ll miss him from th’accustomed place
Beside the table edge, holding the bat,
We’ll know the game has killed him; that his face
We’ll never see again across the net.