Lucy Vickery

Paradise Lost in four lines

'The Blind Milton Dictating Paradise Lost to His Daughters', 1878, by Mihaly Munkacsy [Granger/Shutterstock]

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

foreplay(more play)errings, ummings(and cummings)Martin Parker/‘may i feel said he’

Play cricket with a schoolboy heartThat’s true. Learn thus to play your partIn warfare. It’s another sortOf 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 followsAnd it ends with a robin and swallows.Jerome Betts/ ‘Ode to Autumn’

All gods die inescapablyAs presents become pasts.Shun dreams of immortality;Cherish what never lasts.Basil Ransome-Davies/‘Sunday Morning’

A blackbird sang us on a trailthrough 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 curseAnd want it condensed into one four-line verse.Alan

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