Tuesday, April 02, 2002

100-year-old poem of Kentucky heard around the world

By Berry Craig
For The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — 'Tis the poem heard 'round the world.

        “It has been recited in Egypt; in London, England; and in Paris, France,” said Ron Bryant, a Frankfort historian and writer. “Many people's conception of Kentucky comes from that poem.”

        That poem is “In Kentucky,” Judge James Hillary Mulligan's 100-year-old tongue-in-cheek ode to the Bluegrass State.

        “It it is still popular, especially the last stanza,” said Mr. Bryant, curator of rare books at the Kentucky Historical Society. “Kentucky's reputation for, shall we say, fractious politics is well known.”

        Besides a judge, Judge Mulligan the bard was also a barrister, businessman, politician and diplomat. He, too, was “regarded as of the greatest Kentucky orators of his time,” according to The Kentucky Encyclopedia.

        Judge Mulligan debuted “In Kentucky” in 1902 at an after-dinner speech before state legislators at the old Phoenix Hotel in Lexington. He typed the poem on a scrap of paper, which he pulled from his pocket “at the close of an unusually brilliant and witty toast ... as if drawing a deadly weapon,” reported the Lexington Leader. The paper published Judge Mulligan's musings onthe front page the next day.

        Almost instantly, “In Kentucky” became a stump speech staple. Politicians spouted the poem across the commonwealth and even on the floor of Congress. “In Kentucky” is enshrined in the Congressional Record.

        The poem “has been parodied a thousand times,” according to John Wilson Townsend's 1913 book, Kentucky in American Letters, 1784-1912. “It has been ... reproduced in almost every newspaper in English, illustrated, and at least one Kentuckian has heard it chanted by an Englishman in the shadow of the Pyramids in Egypt!”

        Mr. Townsend added that “more than a million souvenir postal cards have been sold with the verses printed upon them; and had the author had "In Kentucky' copyrighted, he would have reaped a harvest of golden coins.”

        Judge Mulligan died in 1915 at age 70. His poem lives, even on the Internet:

        “The moonlight falls the softest In Kentucky; The summer's days come oft'est In Kentucky; Friendship is the strongest, Love's fires glow the longest; Yet, a wrong is always wrongest In Kentucky.

        “The sunshine's ever brightest In Kentucky; The breezes whisper lightest In Kentucky; Plain girls are the fewest, Maidens' eyes the bluest, Their little hearts are truest In Kentucky.

        “Life's burdens bear the lightest In Kentucky; The home fires burn the brightest In Kentucky; While players are the keenest, Cards come out the meanest, The pocket empties cleanest In Kentucky.

        “Orators are the grandest In Kentucky; Officials are the blandest In Kentucky; Boys are all the fliest, Danger ever nighest, Taxes are the highest In Kentucky.

        “The bluegrass waves the bluest In Kentucky; Yet bluebloods are the fewest In Kentucky; Moonshine is the clearest, By no means the dearest, And yet, it acts the queerest, In Kentucky.

        “The dove's notes are the saddest In Kentucky; The streams dance on the gladdest In Kentucky; Hip pockets are the thickest, Pistol hands the slickest, The cylinder turns quickest In Kentucky.

        “Song birds are the sweetest In Kentucky; The thoroughbreds the fleetest In Kentucky: Mountains tower proudest, Thunder peals the loudest, The landscape is the grandest — and Politics — the damnedest In Kentucky.”


        On the Net:

        In Kentucky: http://www.uky.edu/KentuckyCulture/in-kentucky.html


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