Competition

Spectator competition winners: ‘England in 2021’ (sonnets after Shelley)

13 February 2021

9:00 AM

13 February 2021

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3185 you were invited to compose a sonnet called ‘England in 2021’.

The challenge was inspired by Shelley’s political sonnet ‘England in 1819’, in which he paints a scathing picture of a broken country, rotten to the core, and rages against king (‘old, mad, blind, despised, and dying’), aristocracy, parliament, church and the army.


Two hundred years on, the view is not much better but, as in Shelley’s closing couplet, there were some glimmers of hope.

Honourable mentions go to Joe Crocker, Josephine Boyle, Nicholas Whitehead, Frank McDonald, David Shields and Nicholas Hodgson. The best of a varied and excellent bunch are printed below and earn their authors £20 apiece.

The new year breaks and feels already old
As we mark time on ever-shifting ground:
The days and weeks in tedium unfold,
Our lives worn flat by this eventless round.
And always in the gloom the fatuous cry
For clarity, to know what can’t be known;
While cocksure hindsight sees through half-closed eye
Where shades of human failings might be shown.
But then, against the dark, pinpricks of light
Whose welcome number doubles and redoubles,
Give us the chance to take our turn and fight,
By baring arms against a sea of troubles.
In Vingt-et-un the virus deals our fate:
The twists to come we watchfully await.
W.J. Webster

Dishevelled, down-at-heel, adrift, at sea;
the threads of England’s history start to fray.
Europe cast off, the Union flippantly
disdained, the country sprawls in disarray.
Treaties once binding are no more than scraps
with tabloid headlines shaping politics;
Fate’s latest turn tears up the future’s maps,
relationships now too far gone to fix.
So, leader-lite and blind, this Ship of Fools
invents new toys to break, not ways to mend;
its would-be world-king struggling with the rules,
its would-be Wotan facing Wotan’s end.
A child could tell this truth; that what you cherish
you handle carefully — or watch it perish.
D.A. Prince

How great it is that pubs are locked and barred!
It gives us scope to have some English fun:
Dunk bacon butties in some fizzing lard,
Mask up, and buy some cider by the ton —
Let’s live to eat! It really can’t be hard:
Let’s bloat ourselves! Come on now, everyone —
We’ll deal in debt, sign up as diabetic,
For this is how our country’s fame persists —
The old Dunromin spirit, so bathetic,
Dancing on deck while S.S. England lists.
It’s time to roam our virtual streets, splenetic,
Choosing our culture, selecting its aesthetic.
Not Scots, not Welsh, no European trysts —
We are ourselves: wave these, our furious fists.
Bill Greenwell

Dark omens crowd: a raven flees the Tower,
while overseas the Sussexes remain.
In sad self-isolation thousands cower,
as vaccines strive to fight the mutant strain.
Red tape entangles Brexit hour by hour,
redundancies roll out, schools close again.
So much is cancelled, on hold, Zoomed, delayed,
Big Ben can’t even bong, his voice is gone.
The once-swamped tourist spots now ache for trade,
it’s lockdown life; a weary marathon.
Yet through cold months with so few signs of aid,
hope braves the blast; that soon the worst will fade —
that turnaround year, 2021.
Till then, what else? — keep calm and carry on.
Janine Beacham

We sail the stormy waters, as before,
In hope and confidence of a safe port.
The tides are cruel, the weather rough and raw.
Harsh enemies of comfort leave us fraught.
Over the perilous waves a distant shore
Urges our progress, dominates our thought.
There, freed at last from Europe’s cold embrace
And having conquered Covid-19’s threat,
Prosperity and peace will take their place
As wise men plot a course in cabinet.
Depend on it, England is, by God’s grace,
Destined to be the first of nations yet.
Let this year show that, proud and unified,
England will vanquish every hostile tide.
Basil Ransome-Davies

We are, says Petronella, cowards all,
Who, bullied, lazy, bovine, yet maintain
A ludicrous pretension to walk tall
Whilst England’s essence runs into the drain;
And yet behind the plague, and zealots’ spleen,
A courteous majority endures,
Old bowlers totter in on village greens
And Blythe still writes of Wormingford and Bures;
On trains, in gardens, city pubs and parks
A mild multitude does as it ought
And, shyly, shows its English watermark
If pressed, at least that’s what I’ve always thought…
For faith reels, shaken by an apologue:
Some bastards now subsist by stealing dogs.
Nick Syrett

A land that cannot wait to throw aside
The people who once made the country great;
A land that scorns her heroes, once her pride,
Replacing honour with barbaric hate.
Disease within disease has gripped the nation
And England blunders on with idiot rules;
Iconoclasts are given admiration,
For we now have a Parliament of Fools.
Detractors seeing ill in Churchill’s name
Decree that he no longer merits praise.
Soon Shakespeare will become a bard of shame
When scrutinisers tear apart his plays.
While England sleeps in seeming hibernation
The Queen of Scots is plotting separation.
Max Ross

No. 3188: no place like home

Given that we may be looking at a more or less foreign-holiday-free summer, you are invited to submit a postcard from a friend vacationing abroad that makes you relieved you aren’t there. Please email entries of up to 150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 24 February.

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