Franklin P Adams: Ornithology


[ Franklin Pierce Adams was a humorist who wrote a newspaper feature that, as best I can tell, has just plain vanished: the newspaper poem. He’s known, at least among baseball-history fans, for composing “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”, a ditty about the Chicago Cubs’ double-play-making machine of Tinkers and Evers and Chance, often credited with putting those three in the Baseball Hall of Fame together. Here’s a bit from the collection Tobogganing on Parnassus, a title which by itself shows his expectation that readers won’t be thrown by classical references or an erudite turn of phrase. I’m sympathetic; I like to think I skew to the higher brow, but I admit reading his stuff makes I’m glad I can run off to the Internet to look up what he’s talking about. It’s hard to fully believe that the typical reader of 1913 quite got all of it. This selection, at least, isn’t too obscure. ]

Unlearned I in ornithology —–
    All I know about the birds
Is a bunch of etymology,
    Just a lot of high-flown words.
Is the curlew an uxorial
    Bird? The Latin name for crow?
Is the bulfinch grallatorial?
       I dunno.

O’er my head no golden gloriole
    Ever shall be proudly set
For my knowledge of the oriole,
    Eagle, ibis, or egrette.
I know less about the tanager
    And its hopes and fears and aims
Than a busy Broadway manager
       Does of James.

But, despite my incapacity
    On the birdies of the air,
I am not without sagacity,
    Be it ne’er so small a share.
This I know, though ye be scorning at
    What I know not, though ye mock,
Birdies wake me every morning at
       Four o’clock.