The Poetry of Muhammad Ali

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Clay standing over the defeated Sonny Liston
The warrior poet is one of the more remarkable figures in history. In the English-speaking world, their zenith came with the horrors of World War One, when Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen & others veered away from patronising the soldier’s noble death with high-blown lyricism, & got down to expositing the true danger & desperation of combat. Fifty years later the world encountered a different kind of warrior poet, the boxer called Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali who like a high-ranked bardic-trained Gaulish druid passed judgement on the age of Civil Rights.

I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me: Black, confident, cocky. My name, not yours. My religion, not yours. My goals, my own. Get used to me. Muhammad Ali

download.jpgLAST NIGHT I HAD A DREAM Last night I had a dream, When I got to Africa, I had one hell of a rumble. I had to beat Tarzan’s behind first, For claiming to be King of the Jungle. For this fight, I’ve wrestled with alligators, I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning And throw thunder in jail. You know I’m bad. just last week, I murdered a rock, Injured a stone, Hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean, I make medicine sick. I’m so fast, man, I can run through a hurricane and don’t get wet. When George Foreman meets me, He’ll pay his debt. I can drown the drink of water, and kill a dead tree. Wait till you see Muhammad Ali. Written by Muhammad Ali | Create an image from this poem There live a great man named Joe There live a great man named Joe who was belittled by a loudmouth foe. While his rival would taunt and tease Joe silently bore the stings. And then fought like gladiator in the ring.


Clay comes out to meet Liston and Liston starts to retreat, if Liston goes back an inch farther he’ll end up in a ringside seat. Clay swings with his left, Clay swings with his right, Look at young Cassius carry the fight Liston keeps backing, but there’s not enough room, It’s a matter of time till Clay lowers the boom. Now Clay lands with a right, What a beautiful swing, and the punch raises the Bear clean out of the ring. Liston is still rising and the ref wears a frown, For he can’t start counting till Sonny goes down. Now Liston is disappearing from view, The crowd is going frantic, But radar stations have picked him up, Somewhere over the Atlantic. Who would have thought when they came to the fight? That they’d witness the launching of a human satellite. Yes the crowd did not dream, when they put up the money, That they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.





GettyImages-1045356178.jpg The boy could fight too – sheer poetry in the ring, but he actually created a great deal of interesting, funny verse. Inspired by the barber-shop banter he heard in his youth, & driven through a supra-arrogant ‘I’m the greatest’ persona based upon a wrestler called Gorgeous George, the world became hooked on every word the young Cassius said – & he knew it, touching an entire planet thro’ his simple lyricism enabled by his global persona. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”


Ding! Ali comes out to meet Frazier But Frazier starts to retreat If Frazier goes back any further He’ll wind up in a ringside seat

Ali swings to the left Ali swings to the right Look at the kid Carry the fight

Frazier keeps backing But there’s not enough room It’s a matter of time Then Ali lowers the boom

Now Ali lands to the right What a beautiful swing! And deposits Frazier Clean out of the ring

Frazier’s still rising But the referee wears a frown For he can’t start counting Till Frazier comes down

Now Frazier disappears from view The crowd is getting frantic But our radar stations have picked him up He’s somewhere over the Atlantic

Who would have thought that When they came to the fight That they would have witnessed The launching of a coloured satellite!

After becoming involved with the controversial ‘Nation of Islam’ group in the 60s, Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, which will stick unto eternity. His legacy is being forgotten by the millennial generation, unfortunately, as is his poetry. But there is a clear case that for while he was at the peak of his powers, more people heard, were touched by, & recited back his poetry than other individual on the planet before or since. Maybe not a better poet than Shakespeare, but definitely, during his hey-days, bigger!


He said breedom – Better Now

Better far— from all I see— To die fighting to be free What more fitting end could be?

Better surely than in some bed Where in broken health I’m led Lingering until I’m dead

Better than with prayers and pleas Or in the clutch of some disease Wasting slowly by degrees

Better than a heart attack or some dose of drug I lack Let me die by being Black

Better far that I should go Standing here against the foe Is the sweeter death to know

Better than the bloody stain On some highway where I’m lain Torn by flying glass and pane

Better calling death to come Than to die another dumb Muted victim in the slum

Better than of this prison rot If there’s any choice I’ve got Kill me here on the spot

Better far my fight to wage Now while my blood boils with rage Lest it cool with ancient age

Better vowing for us to die Than to Uncle Tom and try Making peace just to live a lie

Better now that I say my sooth I’m gonna die demanding truth While I’m still akin to youth

Better now than later on Now that fear of death is gone Never mind another dawn.

This poem was recited on air while in Ireland & depicts a hostage protest for better conditions which led to 29 prisoners being shot by soldiers. After reading the poem, Muhammad Ali related the struggle of the Afro-Americans for freedom and justice to the struggle of the Irish against British imperialism

THE LEGEND OF MUHAMMAD ALI_89882124_89882123.jpg

This is the legend of Muhammad Ali, The greatest fighter that ever will be. He talks a great deal and brags, indeed. Of a powerful punch and blinding speed. Ali fights great, he’s got speed and endurance. If you sign to fight him, increase your insurance. Ali’s got a left, Ali’s got a right; If he hits you once, you’re asleep for the night Written by Muhammad Ali | Create an image from this poem To make America the greatest is my goal To make America the greatest is my goal, So I beat the Russians, and I beat the Pole, and for the USA won the medal of gold. Italians said: “You’re Greater than the Cassius of old´´. We like your name, we like your game, So make Rome your home if you will. I said I appreciate your kind hospitality, But the USA is my country still, ‘Cause they’re waiting to welcome me in Louisville.





Ali ‘the poet’ must also go down on record as the author of the shortest poem in the language. According to  Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, the shortest poem in the English language was Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes by Strickland Gillilan, which went, ‘Adam / Had’em.’ Ali beat this hands down with his sexy & supercilious, ‘Me / We.’ Yes, Muhammad Ali, you truly were the greatest.

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One thought on “The Poetry of Muhammad Ali

    Nikki Wordsmith said:
    October 10, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    Nice piece! I’ve been trying to find out what Ali actually said for the shortest poem — ‘Me / We’ or ‘Me / Whee’? See my latest blog. Do you know of any footage or recording of him saying this poem? Thanks 🤓

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