A poem for Boris

4 November 2017

9:00 AM

4 November 2017

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3022 you were invited to compose a safe poem that Boris Johnson could have on hand to quote from when out in the field.

The recent kerfuffle caused by the Foreign Secretary’s murmured quotation of a few lines of Kipling’s poem ‘Mandalay’ during a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar led me to wonder whether it might be wise, given the ever-increasing number of no-go areas when it comes to subject matter, to challenge you to fashion an all-purpose poem unlikely to offend.

Barbara Jones’s Blakean-flavoured entry — ‘And did my feet in foreign clime/ Trample on sensitivities?’ — caught my attention, as did Tim Raikes’s patter song. But they were outstripped by the winners below, who take £25 each. The extra fiver is D.A. Prince’s.

When you require a few bon mots about you
(Let’s not be If-men — life’s too bloody short)
Look for a lingua franca when men doubt you.
Diplomacy’s an art and not a sport.
O tempora, o mores — much too gloomy,
Remember, Latin’s now for chaps who brag.
Some murmurings — Confucius, or Rumi
Mugged up ahead; success is in your bag.
When you can rescue triumph from disaster —
Yes, chaps, we’ve been there, every one of us —
We’re equals; there’s no notion of a ‘master’.
A common Karma, not a media fuss.
All brothers, sisters, everyone, whatever.
No Latin genders messing up our show.
We’re all in this united world together:
OK, just one: pro bono publico.
D.A. Prince
I’ve a breathless crush on our Hosts tonight —
Friends to make, as an English twin —
When we make our pitch, it’s a sheer delight,
So now let us say, with an ample grin,
That it’s not for the sake of the trading boat
Or to stake a place in your hall of fame:
It’s a backslapperama, dear friends of note:
“Play up! play up! and play your game!”
Yours is the world that, year by year,
We must embrace. Let us not forget
Our thrill as we lowered our landing gear:
Our nation will ever be in your debt.
Never to pop any downeroons,
Heads held high for the snapper’s frame
Your walls are high and we love your tunes:
‘Play up! play up! and play your game!’
Bill Greenwell
All hail to those who fight the thankless cause
Of settling world disputes through words, not wars.
In this great quest they visit state on state
To pay due honour, then negotiate.
In public, firm clasped handshakes symbolise
Connections that diplomacy supplies.
Behind thick doors a full exchange of views
Escapes the glaring light of being news.
But in this world that shadows stark events
What’s learnt and said has its own consequence;
Yet many only trouble to engage
With those who come before them centre stage.
War was what poets used to celebrate
(And now with equal vigour execrate.)
But where’s the verse for those who rarely cease
Deploying subtler skills in aid of peace?
W.J. Webster
When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old
He was gentle and brave he was gallant and bold,
With faith as his shield he would muster his might
And slaughtering dragons he’d fight for the Right.
Today he slays braggarts who, guilty of guile,
Exude playful charm with a treacherous smile,
They run with hares and hunt with the hounds
And, testing the boundaries, play out of bounds.
Such bounders he loathes who on mischief are set
And are to their leaders a bane and a threat,
But with threats of dismissal and loss of their friends
By fear he will force them to make their amends.
With past gaffes behind them, their lessons now learned,
And for their transgressions deservedly spurned
They will swear on their honour as men born anew
Not to do as they may, but as May would them do.
Alan Millard
My mistress now is naught but this fair realm;
My rapture serving our majestic queen;
Love of country’s here at my heart’s helm:
I’m thrusting for the UK’s greater sheen.
I have no eye for offices upstairs,
But humbly steer my plough where’er I’m sent.
Commonwealth and foreign my affairs
(With just a hint of whimsical dissent.)
With patriot eye I scan this fractured land
And promise more than blood and sweat and  tears.
Against the grey and bland I make my stand
But mean, of course, no member of my peers,
For whom my admiration rings anew:
Secundus inter pares through and through.
Paul Carpenter
We shall do all that laws allow,
With fairness as our guiding light,
Nor push too far, nor bend or bow,
Observing always what is right.
And we shall look beyond these days
Of rancour and foul circumstance
To win the warmth of people’s praise
And through our fortitude advance.
And we shall prosper, come what may,
Though others callously accuse,
For every Johnson has his day
And Boris wasn’t born to lose.
It matters not how strait the gate;
With sureness I shall cycle through.
I’ll be the master of my fate
And, in my company, you will too.
Frank McDonald


No. 3025: let us pray

You are invited to submit a Lord’s Prayer for the 21st century. Please email entries to by midday on 15 November.


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