In Competition No. 2431 you were invited to write a poem commemorating the recent death of the whale in the Thames.
Verse marking a special occasion can be serious (Tennyson’s ‘Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington’) or light (Gray’s ‘Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes’). I can only explain the fact that this was the smallest entry I have ever received by the supposition that many of you wrongly thought that I was asking for a funny poem on an unfunny subject. Perhaps it would have been easier to treat the subject with a straight face if it hadn’t been a bottle-nosed whale. Only four competitors managed to be prizeworthy. Printed below, they get £35 each, and the bonus fiver goes to G. McIlraith. Printed below them, I give you Horace Walpole’s ‘Epitaph on Two Piping Bullfinches of Lady Ossory’s, Buried under a Rose-Bush in her Garden’.
It was in the chill January of two thousand and six
That the mighty Thames became the river Styx
For one northern bottle-nosed whale which got completely lost
And instead of braving the Atlantic tempest-tossed
It swam through our capital city while vast crowds lined
The Embankment and the bridges and hoped it would find
Somewhere to turn and swim back to sea,
But such an outcome was sadly not to be.
So brave rescue services, although it was so large,
Captured it in a sling and put it on a barge
And the paparazzi and other media folk
Took many pictures, but, alas, it was no joke,
For the whale died; though the publicity it was able to gain
For its troubled species means it may not have died in vain.
Perhaps it would have fared better swimming further north,
Into the silvery Tay or even the Firth of Forth.