84 – Casey at the Bat

“Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Thayer is the most beloved poem in American Literature. It’s mock-heroic epic about . . . a baseball game. It’s very funny and makes a great selection for children to recite. It’s also a great way to introduce students to common poetic devices as well as themes from classic literature that are often referenced by modern writers.

Activity: Poetic Device Hunt

Give students a printed copy of “Casey at the Bat.” Have students circle and label examples of the following poetic devices in the poem:

  • Hyperbole
  • Alliteration
  • Enjambment
  • Personification
  • Metaphor
  • Simile
  • Caesura

Additionally, students can research the references in this poem to great works of myth and literature, such as the source of the phrase “hope springs eternal” and the story of Echo from Greek mythology. Students can also research the poetic meter used in this poem (iambic heptameter, also called a “fourteener”), which was commonly used in Renaissance-era poetry.

Activity: Write Your Own Epic Sports Poem

Ask students to write a poem in the style of “Casey at the Bat” based on their own favorite sports moments. Poems should describe a heartbreaking moment in sports and make use of language that is pretentious, florid, and overly grandiose. Students can then contrast this language with fairly common everyday language. If possible, poems should reference people or events from mythology or come from famous poems or stories about gods, royalty, and legendary people.

Activity: The Rules of Baseball

In a PE or baseball team setting, ask students to explain the scenario described in “Casey at the Bat” using the rules of baseball. Students should explain why Casey is in a critical position, as it is the ninth inning, the team is behind by two points, and two players are on base with two outs already on the board. Students should be able to explain that there are four possible outcomes:

  1. Casey is able to hit a single and get on base, sending Flynn home for a run and leaving Blake on base. The score would then be Mudville 3, Visitors 4. The Mudville Nine would then send its next batter up, and the game would depend on him.
  2. Casey is able to hit a double or triple and get on base, sending Flynn and Blake home. This would leave the score tied 4-4, sending the game into extra innings even if the next player gets out.
  3. Casey hits a home run, batting in Flynn and Blake ahead of him. Mudville wins the game 5-4.
  4. Casey strikes out, and Mudville loses 4-2.

Ask students how they would have batted if they found themselves in Casey’s position. With players on second and third, what kind of hit would they attempt? Not getting out is the highest priority, so how would they have tried to manage the situation?

78 – Spring Writing Challenge Party

Special guests Tom the Tale Teller Phillips and his daughter Emmy join in to read the funniest reader submissions sent in to the Spring Writing Challenge. Tom was featured as the show’s Leicestershire Children’s Writer for the month of March.

During my interview with Tom the Tale Teller over Zoom, I couldn’t help but admire the excellent painting of a cow hanging on the wall behind him. I asked what the cow’s story was, and it didn’t have one, so Tom and I decided that needed to change. I asked for silly stories, and boy did you listeners deliver! In this episode you will hear a lullaby, a haiku, the best poem ever written about cow flatulence, a short story, and a surprisingly touching story about a cow who finds out she is wonderful just as she is.

Featured in this episode are the following delightful works:

“Lydia the Dancing Cow” by Tillie, read by Emmy Phillips
“Moo Haiku” by Edie, read by ChloĆ« Townsend
“Bovine Lullaby” by Chris, sung by T.Q. Townsend
“Cow Power” by B.C. Byron, read by T.Q. Townsend
“Lisa the Cow and Her Missing Spots” by Olivia Lee, read by Tom the Tale Teller Phillips

Many thanks to all of you who contributed. Children’s literature is not just something that belongs to the past, and it would seem that the current generation of writers is a healthy one!

36 – Elven Songs in The Hobbit

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien has the lyrics for many songs, but no official melodies. What might these songs sound like if we follow clues in the text? In the first of three episodes about the music in The Hobbit, we explore the rhythmic structure, instrumentation, and performance style of the book’s five elven songs. The elves of Rivendell sing lilting jigs and waltzes, and dockworkers from Mirkwood sing sturdier songs with a 4/4 beat. Most songs are performed a capella, and the only instrument mentioned is the harp.

Tolkien once wrote a letter to a composer saying that he was “honoured” when a musician was inspired by his writing, as he was very fond of music although did not know how to create it himself. Readers of all musical abilities can have fun writing their own melodies to sing to go along with the elven lyrics in The Hobbit.

Because music is so professionalized these days, amateur artists can often feel that they shouldn’t even try writing a song. But this shouldn’t be the case! Anyone can sing, and anyone can come up with a simple melody. To prove it, I submit my own little composition. I gave myself just one evening to write and record the melody, although I did come back later to arrange the sheet music. I’d be honored if you gave my version a try, and I would love to hear what you come up with! These arrangements may be freely used for non-profit enjoyment.

Here is the audio of my arrangement of “Sing All Ye Joyful” lifted out from the episode, as well as a link to the song on YouTube.

Sheet Music for “Sing All Ye Joyful”
words by J.R.R. Tolkien and music by T.Q. Townsend

Arranged for SATB choirArranged for solo singer with chords for guitar or ukulele

Activity: Write a Melody for an Elven Song

Choose one of the five elven songs written out in The Hobbit. The traits of each song as described in the book are written below. Songwriters may choose to follow these traits closely or follow their inspiration in a different direction. This activity would work well as a songwriting exercise in a music class but should only be offered for extra credit in a literature class. New songwriters may find it useful to recite the lyrics out loud with the desired rhythm, then begin singing out notes that seem to fit.

Chapter 3: “O! What Are You Doing?”
Group singing: Elves of Rivendell
Poetic meter: dactylic dimeter
Musical time signature: 6/8 Jig
Instrumentation: Many male and female voices singing a capella

Chapter 9: “Roll, Roll!”
Group singing: Worker elves of Mirkwood
Poetic meter: spondaic dimeter
Musical time signature: 4/4 March
Instrumentation: Small male choir singing a capella

Chapter 9: “Down the Swift Dark Stream You Go”
Group singing: Worker elves of Mirkwood
Poetic meter: trochaic dimeter
Musical time signature: 4/4 March
Instrumentation: Small male choir singing a capella

Chapter 19: “The Dragon is Withered”
Group singing: Elves of Rivendell
Poetic meter: dactylic dimeter
Musical time signature: 6/8 Jig
Instrumentation: Many male and female voices singing a capella

Chapter 19: “Sing All Ye Joyful”
Group singing: Elves of Rivendell
Poetic meter: dactylic tetrameter
Musical time signature: 3/4 Waltz
Instrumentation: Many male and female voices singing a capella