Economies of scale

24 October 2020

9:00 AM

24 October 2020

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3171, a challenge suggested by a kind reader, you were invited to submit a requiem in verse for the pangolin.

One competitor pointed out that my request for a requiem seemed somewhat premature given that pangolins are still very much with us. Well, for the moment they are. But these shy, solitary, nocturnal creatures (which are more closely related to dogs and bears than to the armadillos they resemble) are being hunted down for their scales and meat and are now critically endangered. What is more, pangolins constitute their own taxonomic order, so if they disappear there’ll be nothing like them left on the planet.

You rose to the occasion well, and in a terrifically varied entry John Priestland’s riff on Noël Coward (‘Don’t put your pangolin in your pan, Mrs Worthington…’), Nick MacKinnon’s Kipling-inspired entry, Max Ross’s clever reworking of Burns’s ‘To a Mouse’ and Janey Wilks’s haiku all warrant an honourable mention.

The winners are printed below and their authors pocket £30 apiece.

Black marketeers are wrangling the pangolin,
The very last to cutely pad the Earth,
A beast now so atypical it’s very nearly mythical
Whose rarity will only boost its worth.


Bushmeat gourmets are dismantling the pangolin,
Dissecting and divesting it of scales.
Divvied out in pricey portions (that’s to maximise extortions)
They’re dismayed that it’s the last — no future sales.


Chinese quacks are busy mangling the pangolin,
Concocting ancient nostrums against age,
Mixing flakes of scaly anteater with oil of asp and saltpetre
As propounded by a Tang dynastic sage.


By the merest thread it’s dangling, the pangolin,
A creature so delightful and distinct
That we’ll all, our eyes a-brimming, be its humble praises singing
When we make it, through complacency, extinct.
Adrian Fry

Pray for the pangolin soul.
Haunted by hunters, by bush-tucker quacks,
they never had time to reflect or relax:
dark eyes saw only the scales on their backs,
and the tongues that roll or unroll.


Pray for the pangolin soul.
The medicine men claimed their keratin, ground,
drove devils from women, gave deaf-heads their sound.
Beaten and frozen, their bodies are found
where con-men exact an old toll.


Yes, pray for the pangolin soul.
Ants in their bellies, bark in their claws,
they never subscribed to their enemies’ laws,
but wound up in gullets, in bellies, in jaws,
and darkness has swallowed them whole.
Bill Greenwell

Pange, lingua! Let my tongue lament
The pangolin, well-known in far Cathay
(Though less so on Europa’s continent),
Whose name is from the speech of the Malay.


The denizens of formic colonies
Are tiny sweetmeats for the spiny beast,
But under distant Asiatic skies
On pangolin itself the people feast.


Let us rejoice in thoughts of Egg Foo Yung
Or yet of duck, prepared as in Peking,
But let no pangolin pass o’er the tongue!
Instead, a requiem for Wuhan sing


Men must henceforth pangolin-flesh eschew.
The scales have fallen now from all our eyes.
So roast it not, nor put it in a stew.
Its vengeance took a whole world by surprise.
Brian Murdoch

Oh Pangolin, my sweet, my treat,
My very favourite kind of meat,
Dessert that’s turned deserter;
Our dinner guests don’t seem to care,
For lemur tongues with pickled bear,
‘Though I can’t taste a thing — indeed,
Some powdered claw is what I need
To moderate my stertor.


Oh Pangolin my very dear,
My universal panacea,
I feel like Quasimodo:
I’m hunched, I cough, my throat’s on fire,
Unlike my loins, where my desire
Has gone west with my appetite,
Some grated scales would set me right…
And yet you’ve done a Dodo.
Nick Syrett

I once employed a pangolin
To clean my studio flat
And take my Amazon parcels in
And feed the bloody cat.


Its work ethic was never strong.
The laziest of chars,
It hoovered rugs, but not for long,
Then hung around in bars.


Its spent its time in a bizarre
Imaginary romance
With, of all people, Ringo Starr —
That, and eating ants.


It died while crossing Abbey Road
Daydreaming of a drummer.
Hence this solemn funeral ode:
A requiem, a bummer.
Basil Ransome-Davies

No. 3174: true to type

You are invited to write a poem with each line beginning with the letters A S D F G H J K L Z X C V B N M, in that order. Please email entries to by midday on 4 November. We are now returning to paying winners by cheque, unless you state on your entry that you would prefer to be paid by bank transfer.

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