Lucy Vickery

Happy talk | 24 January 2019

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In Competition No. 3082 you were invited to write a poem taking as your first line ‘Happy the man, and happy he alone’, which begins the much-loved eighth stanza of poet--translator Dryden’s rendition of Horace’s Ode 29 from Book III.

At a time of year when we traditionally take stock and have a futile stab at self-reinvention, you came up with prescriptions that were witty, smart and wide-ranging. The best are printed below and earn their deserving authors £20 each.

Happy the man, and happy he alone,

Who dwells securely in his comfort zone,

Disdaining the temptations of success

While relishing the fruits of idleness.

Light-minded indolence preserves the soul

From slithering up ambition’s greasy pole

While kicking frantically at those beneath,

Who curse and fulminate through broken teeth.

Though workaholics and achievers boast

Of crushing rivals or who earned the most,

Where would their amour-propre be without

The telling contrast of the layabout?

Why be the aspirant who strives and strains,

And grows a peptic ulcer for his pains,

And at the end of day undoes his collar

Sighing, ‘another day, another dolour’.

Basil Ransome-Davies

Happy the man, and happy he alone

Whose fingers haven’t touched a mobile phone;

Who hasn’t tweeted tweets or faced a book

Nor ever used a microwave to cook.

Happy indeed the human who can cope

Without a daily dose of TV soap,

And happiest he who’s made it his decision

Never to know the curse of television.

But where lives such a man? What paradise

Protects his thoughts from every modern vice?

Does he in island solitude pursue

The simple things that Horace used to do?

And far from superstores and busy roads,

Contents himself in reading Latin odes?

Frank McDonald

Happy the man and happy he alone

To whom the giants of the past have shown

Their wealth of wisdom and poetic art:

The world of classics, that essential chart

Which guides successors on the upward way

To bardic heights where still their works hold sway.

From Homer, Horace, Dante he now learns,

And treading in their footsteps partly earns

The vestige of a better power to claim

A budding right to hold a poet’s name

Than self-taught spouters of this modern stuff

Who never seem to hear us cry ‘Enough.’

Happy the man who loves the bards of old

And with them travels in the realms of gold.

Alanna Blake

Happy the man, and happy he alone,

Who does not cause his listeners to groan

With self-regarding narratives that drone

Of glory days and triumphs he has known,

Happy who knows the crops his hand has sown

And how to harvest once the fields have grown,

Who knows next year will fly as last year’s flown

And each day’s one day closer to the bone,

Happy who shuns the versified cornpone

That Dryden did not blush to call his own,

Happy who writes a poem without a tone

That puts it in the fortune-cookie zone,

Happy who either didn’t shine or shone

Some yesterday, and either way is prone,+

To shrug that what is past is carved in stone,

While right now is a short-term, high-rate loan.

Chris O’Carroll

Happy the man, and happy he alone

Who runs and rules a country as his own.

My wall with Mexico? Well, hey, no sweat;

I’ll shut the country down until I get

The funding that I want. Them democrats,

Them socialists, them migrant-loving rats —

Just let them try to stop me! They’re obscene.

I’m President, OK? That has to mean

I do just what I want. I’ve checked with Vlad,

And he agrees: ‘Democracy is bad.

The happy man is he who firmly rules,

Suppressing all dissent from feeble fools.

Do what you like. If one should disagree,

Just give him some polonium-flavoured tea.’

That’s great advice, and I’ll be even greater

When I declare myself US Dictator.

Brian Allgar

Happy the man, and happy he alone

Whose wishes are fulfilled on every hand.

He reaps the crops that other men have sown

And charges rent because he owns the land.

The life of common men is filled with toil

In driving rain, in snow, in searing sun.

But when a common man has tilled the soil

He takes contentment from a job well done.

The happy man can nothing know of this.

His life is filled with toys that quickly bore.

He has his moments of ecstatic bliss.

They pass away and leave him wanting more.

The common man can satisfy his need.

The happy man cannot allay his greed.

Philip Roe

Happy the man and happy he alone

Who knows what sex he is without a doubt;

Who makes deductions from the things he’s shown

When a mirror’s honest image points them out.

Happy is he who sees his finery

And feels no dark temptation to surrender

To thoughts of what is meant by binary

Nor angst about the transience of gender.

Happy the man who readily consents

When nature urges him to spend a penny

To boldly go through the door that’s headed


Confident he’ll meet no Joan or Jenny.

Such happiness our modern theories damn,

Preferring instead: I think, and so I am.

Max Ross

No. 3085: what’s not to love

You are invited to supply a poem in dispraise of Valentine’s Day (16 line maximum). Please email entries to by midday on 6 February.