Lucy Vickery

Brow lines

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In Competition No. 3127 you were invited to submit Shakespeare’s newly discovered ‘Woeful ballad to his mistress’ eyebrows’, as referred to by Jaques in As You Like It (‘And then the lover,/ Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad/ Made to his mistress’ eyebrow…’). For the purposes of this challenge, a ballad could be any sort of poem (most of you wrote sonnets) and anachronisms were allowed. The prizewinners, in another fiercely contested week, take £20.

What blessing crowns thy outward loveliness?

A coiffed, enrapturing head of sable hair

That blazes rank above the common press.

Yet there is hair invisible elsewhere.

Those secret, curling wisps that underlie

Thy gorgeous panoply of silk and lace

Intemperately appear to my mind’s eye,

Prompting low stirrings in another place.

Then as I spur my mind to higher things,

I worship at thy temple, where twin arcs,

As softly supple as the downy wings

Of fledgling finches, flaunt the swooping marks

Of grace and beauty both. Thereon I dwell,

Love’s prisoner in his chaste, adoring cell.

Basil Ransome-Davies

Suave eyebrow, can’t you guess how much I suffer?

Last evening your sweet owner heard me praised,

And straight away I saw you archly raised,

Implying I’m the merest twerp or duffer.

Then later, when I tried to hint I care,

You and your lovely twin slid swiftly down

To darkly shape a grim excluding frown,

Then, sloping nosewards, framed a hostile stare.

And yet, the more I’m shunned, the more I feel

A mighty love for eyebrows so expressive,

The more I’m driven by a hope obsessive

That all my dreams one day might be made real

When you and your dear partner rise above

Wide-irised eyes, all open to my love.

George Simmers

My mistris Brows, th’art black as Soot

But ah! thou both be bonny

Though dark as silken Bumbershoot

Hey nonny

Thou curvest as the Lyre or Lute

When heartstruck Lovers sing

Each furry as the Bandicoot


Like Caterpillars at a root,

Thou bristle, writhe or loll

And feed like Moss upon yon Fruit


Of Hemp thy thickness, or of Jute

And richest in the Middle

Like a Bruin must I make thy bruit


Bill Greenwell

‘Why gaze thee not into mine eyes,’

Asked she, ‘but on some point above?’

‘In truth,’ said I, ‘I’ll tell no lies,

Thy brows intrigue me more my love.’

‘Indeed!’ quoth she, ‘Pray tell me, do,

Why so?’ ‘Because,’ did I retort,

‘They have an oddly ginger hue

And being burnt seem strangely short.’

‘’Twas Raleigh bid me try,’ she cried,

‘Tobacco,’ whereon she did cringe,

‘Thus, foolishly to smoke I tried

And thereby did my eyebrows singe.’

Despoiled, alas, with both brows burned

She forthwith hid them ’neath her hood,

And, chastened, said, ‘This have I learned:

Nought from America brings good.’

Alan Millard

My mistress’ eyebrows measure her disdain,

Their form describes her ever changing mood,

Yet when she frowns on me I try in vain

To curb a passion that must be subdued.

Those hirsute curves, perchance I fall from grace,

Are lock’d in disapproval and despair;

I little care if she be fair of face,

Whilst suff’ring torment from her facial hair.

A knitted brow — forsooth, I dread this sign,

Methinks when thus, I’d leave the stage to Marlowe,

Brows meeting in a fierce and rigid line,

A phantom of the future — Frida Kahlo.

Those eyes so fine, I fear what lurks above.

To threaten and, alas, destroy my love.

Sylvia Fairley

My mistress’ brows are more than I can bear.

It takes her half an hour to draw them on,

The outsides pointy and the insides square,

A new, unnatural phenomenon.

Great slabs of black they seem, crudely defined.

The arbitrary lines above her nose

Are always marginally misaligned

As are the two thick wings that spring from those.

The pretty whiskers that I loved to kiss

Are now subsumed beneath these dark usurpers

And all her mystic metamorphosis

Is concentrated on a single purpose.

She little cares for eyelid, lip or cheek

Now that her eyebrows have to be on fleek.

Ann Drysdale

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like bald pates

Uncrowned by glossy ornaments of hair.

The portals to her soul are sacred gates

Both overarched by pennants brave and fair.

Mark how expressively twin emblems rise,

Hover, sink, knit together, draw apart

In tender or tormented exercise.

Heart’s truth they blazon in swift glide and dart.

One languid lift or playful slant can spell

A boor’s dismissal or a lover’s tryst.

A pair on high high wonder doth excel,

Eyes widened, brow by heaven’s laughter kissed.

So long as common lines praise one rare she,

Thus treasured may her smallest feature be.

Chris O’Carroll

No. 3130: trochaics

In this week’s Diary Sam Leith reflects on Boris Johnson’s political career in the metre of Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’. You are invited to take up the story where Sam leaves off. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to by midday on 1 January.