Rising from The Ashes – what do cricket and poetry have in common?

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

ashes
Plural noun
Ruins or remains, as after destruction or burning
(Collins English dictionary online)

Whether or not you’re a cricket fan, it probably won’t have escaped your notice that England recently regained The Ashes in spectacular fashion. This got me thinking about the phrase ‘rising from the ashes’ and its connotations.

The tournament, as you will probably know, got its name after Australia’s 1882 victory of England gave rise to a satirical obituary in The Sporting Times newspaper, stating that English cricket “died at The Oval” and that after cremation its ashes would be taken to Australia.

Although this may have started as a joke, the quest to hold or regain The Ashes every few years is, of course, taken very seriously by both sides.

The idea of rising from the ashes is familiar to us from the story of the phoenix, a mythical bird that periodically perishes in a fire and is reborn from the ashes.

This idea of rebirth is a powerful image, often used to represent the resilience of the human spirit. It recognises that we can go through challenging times and survive– still the same person, no doubt changed by the experience, but having withstood the experience and come out the other side.

Last year the world sadly lost the poet, author, actor, director and human rights activist Dr Maya Angelou. Her first autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings detailed how she survived a troubled childhood of abuse. We held a tribute to Dr Angelou at the Huddersfield Literature Festival, which was very well attended and extremely moving.

One of her best-known poems is Still I Rise, which, like much of her work, addresses both racial oppression and sexism. The first verse goes as follows:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

You can listen to her reciting the whole poem here.

While the field of activism and the world of poetry may seem a far cry from the cricket pitch, there are many examples in the world of sport that have seen athletes rise from the ashes and triumph over adversity.

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