Lucy Vickery

Paradise Lost in four lines

Paradise Lost in four lines
'The Blind Milton Dictating Paradise Lost to His Daughters', 1878, by Mihaly Munkacsy [Granger/Shutterstock]
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In Competition No. 3163 you were invited to submit well-known poems encapsulated in four lines.

Now that the internet has all but destroyed our attention spans, who has the mental wherewithal to plough through Paradise Lost or The Faerie Queene?

Well, thanks to the cracking four-liners below, you don’t have to. Props to David Harris, who boiled all of Shakespeare’s sonnets down to a single quatrain, and to -Philip Roe’s impressively pithy two-line version of that charmer Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’: ‘We’ll soon be dead/ So come to bed’. Honourable mentions go to unlucky runners--up Martin Brinkworth, Richard Woods, Neil Crockford, Bill Morris, Brian Miller, Penelope Mackie, and Richard Spencer. The winners are rewarded with £8 each.

It’s distressing me, Dad,

That you’ll shortly be dead,

Yet refuse to get mad.

Don’t just lie there in bed.

Chris O’Carroll/‘Do not go gentle into that good night’
Train stopped.

Wonder why.

Nothing happened.

Nice sky.

Dorothy Pope/‘Adlestrop’
Satan found himself in hell —

Eve and Adam also fell —

Good gone bad got even worse —

Milton wrote too much blank verse —

Jane Blanchard/Paradise Lost

(more play)

errings, ummings

(and cummings)

Martin Parker/‘may i feel said he’
Play cricket with a schoolboy heart

That’s true. Learn thus to play your part

In warfare. It’s another sort

Of hardy British schoolboy sport.

Ossie Jay/‘Vitaï Lampada’
Here scenes of Attic life are set,

Their sounds made silent, movements still;

Folk once alive seem living yet:

What has true beauty always will.

W.J. Webster/‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’
It’s autumn, all fruitful and oozing,

There are vines, nuts, and cider for boozing;

Noise from gnats, lambs and crickets then follows

And it ends with a robin and swallows.

Jerome Betts/ ‘Ode to Autumn’
All gods die inescapably

As presents become pasts.

Shun dreams of immortality;

Cherish what never lasts.

Basil Ransome-Davies/‘Sunday Morning’
A blackbird sang us on a trail

through bramble woods uncharted,

round heaving groaners under sail,

and right back where we started.

Nick MacKinnon/Four Quartets
A lover, a ‘great’ one — or so he insists,

All the loves of his life in this poem he lists,

A list that’s so long you’ll undoubtedly curse

And want it condensed into one four-line verse.

Alan Millard/‘The Great Lover’
We drink life’s wine but die we must.

Emir and servant come to dust.

Feast well before life’s portals slam.

Such are the thoughts of old Khayyam.

Frank McDonald/Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Some medievals took a trip to Kent.

The tourists all told stories as they went.

Some tales were dull, some had them all in fits.

‘The Reeve’s Tale’ is the one with dirty bits.

Brian Murdoch/The Canterbury Tales
We love the British soldier, and dispatches that comprise

Accounts of distant, gallant deeds bring tears to our eyes;

But on Friday nights in Colchester or Tidworth or the ’shot,

We’d rather he is on a spree somewhere that we are not.

Nick Syrett/‘Tommy’
Am I hesitant? Well, no.

Cats; coffee; fog: I swore

Not to baldly go

Where no man has gone before.

Bill Greenwell/‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’
On a pedestal huge and Ionic

stood an emperor’s statue, iconic.

His carved words said, ‘I’m gonna last for all time,’

but the statue was broken. Ironic.

Robert Schechter/‘Ozymandias’
Observe, from China to Peru,

And without exception you

Will see ambitious humans all

Inevitably fail and fall.

George Simmers/‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’
Our blood is mingled in the flea,

So we are one, we’re all but wed.

Don’t kill it! Oh, you have I see,

Now, what’s to lose? Let’s go to bed!

Sylvia Fairley/‘The Flea’
Twelve bookes, twelve morall vertues, fashioning

A gentleman in virtuous discipline,

Enwrapped in allegorical devices…

He only finished six, but that suffices.

Brian Allgar/The Faerie Queene

No. 3166: privates on parade

Philadelphia’s annual naked cycle ride has been cancelled because of Covid-19. You are invited to supply a poem either celebrating or lamenting this turn of events. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to by midday on 9 September. NB. We are unable to accept postal entries for the moment.