Spectator competition winners: Edward Lear and Pam Ayres write dirges

23 January 2021

9:00 AM

23 January 2021

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3182 you were invited to rewrite a famous piece of light verse with a dirge-like, hieratic tone (as if we need any more doom and gloom).

Robert Schechter put a downer on light verse supremo Ogden Nash’s pithy ‘Reflections on Ice-Breaking’, ‘Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker’:

Time is a burden we mortals must carry,
And in the great darkness our lives are a flicker,
So heed me: though sweets may seduce, do not tarry.
Life’s candle is shrinking, and liquor is quicker.

The winners earn £25 each. Bill Greenwell pockets a bonus fiver.

And so we recall, so saith the LORD, an ancient,
Whom shall we praise, praise for his whiskers,
For the whiskers proclaim his age,
For they are grey in the way of righteousness,
And Lo! Hear the words that linger in his mouth!
And he saith, Verily, I am very much afraid, sore afraid,
That the owls, peradventure the great owl and screech owl,
Ay, both of them, small and great,
And with them all together, mayhap, the solitary hen,
Also the thick-billed lark, two pairs, larks of the desert,
All wingèd fowl, yea, of the air,
And furthermore the wren, yea, the darting wren,
All such as may fly above the earth, like sparks,
Yea, but these eight fowl in particular, birds of the heavens,
Have made in my most hairy parts, in my great beard,
Their houses, ay, their houses, therein to live.
Bill Greenwell/Edward Lear

Osiris, on whose judgement hangs our fate,
A wayward couple’s tale I now relate:
Two different creatures, both on mischief bent,
And vile, unholy union intent,
Sailed off, unclad, their money clasped in hand
With unnutritious food, to some strange land
Where, by a fowl who claimed to be a priest
And low-cost ring, not caring in the least,
They tied the knot which sealed the state wherein
The pair would dwell in diabolic sin.
There, on the strand, slave to the Devil’s tune,
They danced and dined beneath the ghostly moon.
No bird with feline beast should be united,
Such mismatched marriages are surely blighted.
Osiris, god whose vengeance all men dread,
Dispatch them to the dungeon of the dead!!
Alan Millard/Edward Lear

The puddings of my youth are fled away, Alice,
your stew lies on my stomach cold as lead.
Once we came home from school to suet duffs, Alice,
those pudding cloths are shrouds now, limp and dead.
Entombed within my memory; cold and starving,
we came from school to puddings on the stove,
to batter puddings, edges burnt and black, Alice,
now in the grave lie apple, cream and clove.
In winter’s chill I mourn for spotted dick, Alice,
for bread and butter puddings’ sugared crust,
but I will stab your frankfurts and eat spam, Alice,
the glories of such treats have come to dust.
Oh bring them back, my lost and lovely puddings,
Pour custard on their coffins as I pine,
I’ll mourn them as we eat our pots of yoghurt, Alice,
and you may dream your dreams, as I dream mine.
Janine Beacham/Pam Ayres

De profundis, Lord, I beg
Restore each childhood ivory peg
To pearly white and free from cavities,
Unspoilt by sugar’s sweet depravities,
Each sleeping nerve as yet undrilled,
Each root canal as yet unfilled.
Mea culpa, Domine,
With dental hygiene gone astray
I stand before your Judgement Throne,
My gums eroded to the bone,
Repentant dental dust and ashes
With scarce one tooth which truly gnashes.
But though I plead with caried grin
Please see the penitent within
Whose teeth do not, upon the whole,
Reflect the nature of her soul.
Martin Parker/Pam Ayres

Alas, poor fantasy from last week’s dream
Of a libation warm and rich and sweet.
Alas, I breathe no scent of chocolate steam;
I taste no soothing, stimulating treat.


Alas, I have no literary guest
To share this drink I dreamt but did not brew.
Alas, whatever wish my dream expressed
Is, in the light of day, not coming true.


Alas, no artist of deserved renown
Has joined me here in cosy kitchen glow.
Alas, I had to jot the vision down.
It seemed important not to let it go.


Alas, I knew the sad truth from the start.
I knew I’d find just one frail straw to clutch.
Alas, I have but this balm for my heart:
The title’s lovely, though the poem’s not much.
Chris O’Carroll/Wendy Cope

Purple shall be my robe when I am old;
All manner of mischief I shall entertain,
Sitting on pavements, going brazen and bold
In dressing gown and slippers in the rain.
Wisdom shall leave me in that vale of woe
As I rattle on railings, moving close to death,
Buying some brandy that it might bestow
Solace, and stealing flowers to make a wreath.
And then shall come my second infancy
When they lay me screaming in my final bed
And lastly all that wild insanity
Shall shudder once, and leave my sleeping head.
Purple shall be the pall that makes my cover
As I cadaverous lie beneath incense.
Deprived of feeling I shall sleep for ever,
Eternal rest my parting recompense.
Frank McDonald/Jenny Joseph

No 3185: The state we’re in

Shelley wrote a sonnet entitled ‘England in 1819’. You are invited to compose one called ‘England in 2021’. Please email entries to by midday on 3 February.

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