Fame is Fleeting as the Wind

Fame is Fleeting as the Wind

This week’s poem is by Henry Grantland Rice, who picks up from last week’s tale with the story of “Casey’s Revenge”.

But fame is fleeting as the wind and glory fades away;
There were no wild and woolly cheers, no glad acclaim this day;
They hissed and groaned and hooted as they clamored: “Strike him out!”
But Casey gave no outward sign that he had heard this shout.

Henry Grantland Rice (1880—1954)

Poem 227. Casey’s Revenge

There were saddened hearts in Mudville for a week or even more;
There were muttered oaths and curses—every fan in town was sore.
“Just think,” said one, “how soft it looked with Casey at the bat,
And then to think he’d go and spring a bush league trick like that!”
All his past fame was forgotten—he was now a hopeless “shine.”
They called him “Strike-Out Casey,” from the mayor down the line;
And as he came to bat each day his bosom heaved a sigh,
While a look of hopeless fury shone in mighty Casey’s eye.
He pondered in the days gone by that he had been their king,
That when he strolled up to the plate they made the welkin ring;
But now his nerve had vanished, for when he heard them hoot
He “fanned” or “popped out” daily, like some minor league recruit.
He soon began to sulk and loaf, his batting eye went lame;
No home runs on the score card now were chalked against his name;
The fans without exception gave the manager no peace,
For one and all kept clamoring for Casey’s quick release.
The Mudville squad began to slump, the team was in the air;
Their playing went from bad to worse - nobody seemed to care.
“Back to the woods with Casey!” was the cry from Rooters’ Row.
“Get someone who can hit the ball, and let that big dub go!”
The lane is long, someone has said, that never turns again,
And Fate, though fickle, often gives another chance to men;
And Casey smiled; his rugged face no longer wore a frown—
The pitcher who had started all the trouble came to town.
All Mudville had assembled—ten thousand fans had come
To see the twirler who had put big Casey on the bum;
And when he stepped into the box, the multitude went wild;
He doffed his cap in proud disdain, but Casey only smiled.
“Play ball!” the umpire's voice rang out, and then the game began.
But in that throng of thousands there was not a single fan
Who thought that Mudville had a chance, and with the setting sun
Their hopes sank low—the rival team was leading “four to one.”
The last half of the ninth came round, with no change in the score;
But when the first man up hit safe, the crowd began to roar;
The din increased, the echo of ten thousand shouts was heard
When the pitcher hit the second and gave “four balls” to the third.
Three men on base—nobody out—three runs to tie the game!
A triple meant the highest niche in Mudville’s hall of fame;
But here the rally ended and the gloom was deep as night,
When the fourth one “fouled to catcher” and the fifth “flew out to right.”
A dismal groan in chorus came; a scowl was on each face
When Casey walked up, bat in hand, and slowly took his place;
His bloodshot eyes in fury gleamed, his teeth were clenched in hate;
He gave his cap a vicious hook and pounded on the plate.
But fame is fleeting as the wind and glory fades away;
There were no wild and woolly cheers, no glad acclaim this day;
They hissed and groaned and hooted as they clamored: “Strike him out!”
But Casey gave no outward sign that he had heard this shout.
The pitcher smiled and cut one loose—across the plate it sped;
Another hiss, another groan. “Strike one!” the umpire said.
Zip! Like a shot the second curve broke just below the knee.
“Strike two!” the umpire roared aloud; but Casey made no plea.
No roasting for the umpire now—his was an easy lot;
But here the pitcher whirled again—was that a rifle shot?
A whack, a crack, and out through the space the leather pellet flew,
A blot against the distant sky, a speck against the blue.
Above the fence in center field in rapid whirling flight
The sphere sailed on - the blot grew dim and then was lost to sight.
Ten thousand hats were thrown in air, ten thousand threw a fit,
But no one ever found the ball that mighty Casey hit.
O, somewhere in this favored land dark clouds may hide the sun,
And somewhere bands no longer play and children have no fun!
And somewhere over blighted lives there hangs a heavy pall,
But Mudville hearts are happy now, for Casey hit the ball.

Well, Casey certainly pays the price for his hubris—his most ardent supporters desert him in droves. Chastened, he broods on his past glory and the adulation that was his, and it affects his game. He plays worse and worse until the crowd begins to call for his dismissal from the team and his fate hangs in the balance.

Just at that moment, his nemesis returns: the pitcher who struck him out in the first game returns and once again, the game is finely poised, though Mudville are getting the worst of it. Still, three runs will get the win, and three men stand on bases ready to make those runs. Tension builds once again as the fourth man fouls and the fifth is caught in the outfield, and Casey once again is the only man who might rescue the situation.

Boos and cat-calls from the audience echo around the stadium as the first and second pitches go past the reviled batter and the pitcher winds up for the last time. This time, however, Casey is untroubled by the reactions of the crowd: he neither basks in their adulation nor feels their contempt, and focusing on his one task, he swings lustily at the ball and dispatches it to parts unknown, scoring a home run and winning the game.

Mudville rejoices, and Casey has learned his lesson—he can, as Kipling put it, “meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two imposters just the same” and has weathered the storm of disapprobation. This is so much worse now with social media making it easy for individuals who fall short of some imagined ideal to be publicly mocked and pilloried.

I like this poem because it completes Casey’s story, it shows the fickleness of the mob, and it demonstrates that self-belief is more important than what others think of us.

There are fewer examples of this poem being performed, but John Tierney has put his performance on YouTube.

I’d like to thank my friend Amanda for introducing me to Henry Grantland Rice through a memorial plaque in Matlock, Derbyshire. He’ll be back, to coin a phrase.


  • Read more of Grantland Rice’s poetry at AllPoetry.
  • Watch John Tierney’s performance of the poem on YouTube.