Art of darkness

22 March 2014

9:00 AM

22 March 2014

9:00 AM

In Competition 2839 you were invited to submit a poem about the darker side of spring. There were references in the entry to Larkin, who could always be relied on to see the bleaker side of things (‘their greenness is a kind of grief’), as well as to Eliot and Thomas Edward Brown. There were also nice echoes of Ogden Nash and Wordsworth.

Nicholas Holbrook and Josephine Boyle were unlucky losers and I liked Ray Kelley’s closing couplet: ‘It’s not by mere coincidence that vernal/ Rhymes so immaculately with infernal.’ The winners, printed below, earn £25 each. Bill Greenwell takes the extra fiver.

At night the young man’s fancy burns
   With unrequited lust;
His thighs expand, his stomach churns,
   He shudders with disgust —
He hates himself, he hates the scent
   Of buds, the songs of birds.
With winter gone, his fast intent’s
   Too terrible for words.
In spring, incomprehensible,
   He springs up like a weed,
With thoughts beyond defensible
   And desperate to breed.
Every Jill and daffodil
   Should tremble at his tread:
For he is driven by his will
   To trample on their bed.
Bill Greenwell
The distinguished author of ‘The Waste Land’
   and ‘Little Gidding’
Called April cruel. He wasn’t kidding.
But it’s not only April that makes me feel like
   joining the berserkers.
It’s the whole damn vernal circus,
When normally sane adults behave like Basil
As if the world becomes full of promise
At the very first sighting of a snowdrop or a
And similar hocus-pocus.
You’ll hear people chorus ‘Ah, the sap is rising!’
Like it’s a miracle. That’s what sap does. Is that
Here’s what I believe:
Like vows of love spring flatters to deceive,
A layer of pastoral optimism
Over the abysm.
So don’t ask me to celebrate Primavera.
I’d rather poison pigeons in the park, like Tom
Basil Ransome-Davies
The robin seeks a worm to kill.
The cat lusts for the robin’s blood.
Cruel hunters shake off winter’s chill.
Death blooms beside the crocus bud.
The shriek of birds, the whine of flies,
The burn and itch of pollen spores
Assail our ears and sting our eyes.
Our noses ooze like leprous sores.
Wrapped in cold-weather anoraks,
We bulged and sagged in privacy.
Now all our pints and all our snacks
Are all too plain for all to see.
Still worse, this season brings us Lent,
Time to abstain from everything.
We suffer winter’s punishment,
And then do penance in the spring.
Chris O’Carroll
With useless hope you hurt our hearts;
The perfume on your breath
Comes not from joyous, princely courts
But from the land of death.
With songs you tease our tired lips
Too sad with age to sing.
With mirthful wine you fill our cups,
Cruel and deceitful Spring!
Give foolish boys and wide-eyed girls
Your rainbow-rich displays.
Let birds repeat your wicked carols
And please you with their praise.
But we who’ve seen your floral shows
Who once with joy believed
We could abandon winter clothes
Now view you, undeceived.
Frank McDonald
Spring cleaning must be done, a cloud of dust
Hangs mid-air in a beam of April sun,
And on the window sill a mildew crust
Reveals that putrefaction has begun.
The house, neglected through the storms and
That threatened roof and chimneys shows the
Of slow insidious damage, crumbling walls
Behind the cobwebbed paper, inky lines
Where curtains fold. I reach out for the broom,
For mops and dusters to begin my task,
Unpeeling winter’s grime from every room,
But as I sweep and scrub I have to ask
If dirt can ever be in my control,
And if hard work can ever purge the soul.
Katie Mallett
It’s Spring, and the weeds are encroaching,
But other plants, too, are a pest.
They come out of nowhere, determined to grow
We’ve planted the rarest and best.
Now, where did those violets come from?
I’d never have have planted them there.
They’re pretty enough, but invasive and rough,
And they’re seeding themselves everywhere.
Campanulas, too, are a nightmare;
We planted a small group of three.
First a pool, then a river — and now, with a shiver,
I stare at a limitless sea.
These marauders, these trespassing beauties,
Have become an unstoppable bevy.
Though the days may grow light, it’s a sobering
And my heart, I assure you, is heavy.
Brian Allgar

No. 2842: putdownable

You are invited to compose the most off-putting book blurb that you can muster. Please email entries (150 words max.) to by midday on 2 April.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments