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Rhyme and Reason

Muhammad Ali


LAST week, 50 years ago, Muhammad Ali won the world heavyweight championship when he took it from the holder Sonny Liston.

At 22 years of age, it was a phenomenal feat to have beaten one of the best heavyweights of all time by dancing round his opponent like a butterfly and using his unique gift of rolling as the punch landed, deprived of any power. It would often be accompanied with a neat couplet of poetry manufactured on the spot by the champ. depriving it of its power. He gave a new meaning to the old cliche 'poetry in motion'.

Poetry appealed to him very much indeed, as I discovered when I met him in Dublin and later on in the United States. He would sit me down and read his latest to me, watching my face for a reaction. A bit scary. But lines came along good enough to merit a nod of the head from me.

"Do not weep with the sad, but console them

If not, by your tears

You will only water the plant of your sorrow."

Ali claimed he had written over 300 poems. He used them in different ways, often reciting them to people whom he met. One day, when I was with him in a hotel suite, the door opened and a nice little lady came in. It appeared that her daughter had had a car accident a year before and was now paralysed, unable to move or speak. Could Mr Ali say a few words to her on the telephone? Yes, he would speak to her. The heavyweight champion of the world leaned back and recited poems of hope for 15 minutes to the stricken girl.

Ali liked his poems to be in the public arena. There was an attempt made to ground the gorgeous Concorde aeroplane at this time. The Kentucky Buttlerfly flew to the rescue with this nifty poem which went round the world.