Every once in a while, my two passions in life--LSU athletics and literature--join forces in a way that lets me know that my dislike of Auburn is more than just the irrational response of a grown man who puts way too much stock in the on-field performance of 20-year-olds. And it's a beautiful thing.
Auburn's mascot schizophrenia has always bothered me, but it really got to me a decade or so ago when I attended an LSU football game there. I was very interested to see the campus that inspired the nickname Plainsmen.
Auburn University is a beautiful campus of gorgeous trees and rolling hills. What it isn't is a plain. I actually got out a dictionary when I got home just to make sure I didn't misunderstand what a plain was all those years of elementary school social studies. (Are you having doubts too? Here's a reminder: plain - n - a level or almost level tract of country, especially an extensive treeless region)
So is the Alabama educational system so bad that someone with enough pull could call people associated with a campus that is nothing but (beautiful) hills and trees "Plainsmen" and not draw some criticism instead of widespread acceptance? As a product of the Louisiana public school system, that is declaration I am unwilling to make right now. (But you can. You'd probably be right.)
Believe it or not, the story gets worse for Auburn. Auburn gets its Plainsmen moniker from Oliver Goldsmith's poem "The Deserted Village." I am willing to say that Goldsmith was not thinking of anywhere in Alabama when he published his poem in 1770, seeing as how Auburn, AL, was not opened for settlement until 1836 and Auburn University wouldn't show up until two decades later.
Why then would a university want such an intimate association with a poem written almost 90 years before it was even founded and is about a village that is not only NOT Auburn University or Auburn, AL, but is about a FAKE place in ENGLAND? That's easy enough. Check out the opening line of the poem:
"Sweet Auburn! Loveliest Village on the Plains!"
That's beautiful. I can imagine how people might ignore the fact that where they live is about 1,000 miles from the nearest plains if they lived in a place called Auburn that wasn't the place where the poet was talking about when he said something so nice about a fake place, so they decided to say it about their place which is real, plainless as it is. But here's where it gets really funny. Step back; this one is going to need a little room.
Anyone who has ever read past the first line of "The Deserted Village" knows that THE ENTIRE POEM IS ABOUT HOW MUCH OF A SHIT-HOLE AUBURN IS.
The narrator is in despair about how Auburn has been...you guessed it...deserted because of the negative impacts of the industrialization and urbanization sweeping across England. Other things Goldsmith says about Auburn:
"No more thy glossy brook reflects the day
But, choked with sedges works its weedy way" (41-42)
"The robe that wraps his limbs in silken sloth
Has robbed the neighb'ring fields of half their growth" (279-280)
I love this part...
"Those matted woods, where birds forget to sing,
But silent bats in drowsy clusters cling;
Those pois'nous fields with rank luxuriance crowned,
Where the dark scorpion gather death around;
Where at each step the stranger fears to wake
The rattling terrors of the vengeful snake;
Where crouching tigers wait their hapless prey,
And savage men more murd'rous still than they." (349-356)
Auburn using "The Deserted Village" as some point of pride is like a girl named Sally walking into class the first day of high school and sitting next to someone else named Sally and deciding they'll be best friends because they're both named Sally, even though Sally number 2 has swastikas tattooed on her cheeks and a case of Hep C she contracted from her older brother's meth dealer. Also, Sally number 2 doesn't even exist.
Much like the plains of Auburn.