Bertie Wooster Bungles the Catch

P.G. Wodehouse on the cricket field


I owe today’s post to my mother’s weekly poetry column in the Sewanee Messenger. As today is the birthday of P.G. Wodehouse, legendary creator of the Bertie Wooster and Jeeves series, she had me delve into Wodehouse’s poetry. We decided on the following poem, which sounds very much as though it features the inept Bertie. The poem is doubly relevant as America is currently in the throes of the baseball playoffs.

To be sure, this Bertie lookalike is playing cricket, not baseball, but both sports involve catching fly balls. Or not catching them, in this case.

By P.G. Wodehouse (10/15/1881)

The sun in the heavens was beaming,
    The breeze bore an odour of hay,
My flannels were spotless and gleaming,
    My heart was unclouded and gay;
The ladies, all gaily apparelled,
    Sat round looking on at the match,
In the tree-tops the dicky-birds carolled,
    All was peace — till I bungled that catch.
My attention the magic of summer
    Had lured from the game — which was wrong.
The bee (that inveterate hummer)
    Was droning its favourite song.
I was tenderly dreaming of Clara
    (On her not a girl is a patch),
When, ah, horror! there soared through the air a
    Decidedly possible catch.
I heard in a stupor the bowler
    Emit a self-satisfied ‘Ah!’
The small boys who sat on the roller
    Set up an expectant ‘Hurrah!’
The batsman with grief from the wicket
    Himself had begun to detach —
And I uttered a groan and turned sick. It
    Was over. I’d buttered the catch.
O, ne’er, if I live to a million,
    Shall I feel such a terrible pang.
From the seats on the far-off pavilion
    A loud yell of ecstasy rang.
By the handful my hair (which is auburn)
    I tore with a wrench from my thatch,
And my heart was seared deep with a raw burn
    At the thought that I’d foozled that catch.
Ah, the bowler’s low, querulous mutter
    Points loud, unforgettable scoff!
Oh, give me my driver and putter!
    Henceforward my game shall be golf.
If I’m asked to play cricket hereafter,
    I am wholly determined to scratch.
Life’s void of all pleasure and laughter;
    I bungled the easiest catch.

Incidentally, Wodehouse got the name of Bertie’s incomparable Butler from a cricketer he once happened to see play, one Percy Jeeves. Percy never knew that his name would become immortal as he died in the Battle of the Somme. We can be confident that neither he nor his literary namesake would have bungled the catch.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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