Lucy Vickery

Replies from Shakespeare’s dark lady and Frances Cornford’s fat woman

G.K. Chesterton, who wrote a response to the triolet ‘To a Fat Lady Seen from a Train’ [Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

In Competition No. 3196, you were invited to supply a reply to the poet from Frances Cornford’s fat woman or Shakespeare’s dark lady. Philip Roe and George Simmers both reminded me that G.K. Chesterton set the bar high with ‘The Fat White Woman Speaks’, his response to Cornford’s triolet (which was also parodied by A.E. Housman). The fat woman clearly moved competitors too (‘It’s always a welcome opportunity to have a go at one of the most unpleasant but mind-worm poems in the English language,’ writes Brian Murdoch; and here’s G.M. Southgate: ‘This poem haunted me… when I was young. It seemed to me so very sad, and cruel too.’) Replies to Cornford significantly outnumbered those to the Bard.

Among those who did give voice to the dark lady, Peter Butler-Way’s suitably bawdy response to Sonnet 151 and Nigel Stuart’s riposte to Sonnet 141 stood out. Others deserving an honourable mention in a large and accomplished postbag are Nick Syrett, C. Paul Evans and Richard Spencer. Those entries printed below nab the prizes this week, earning their authors £25 each.

In mocking me as dark thou speak’st not fair,In damning me as cruel thou speakest ill;Why should I not my favours widely share?For, weak-willed Will, my will loves where it will.I do not lie — I lie where’er I choose;Thy spear is not alone that shak’st in me.And yet, for all thy scorn, I’ll be thy museAnd revel in my immortality.When ’twixt my sheets, thou art a comedyOf errors, for i’ faith there’s much adoFor nothing; ’tis not as it liketh me;The labour of thy love is lost — adieu!Though thou deniest me honour and a name,I’ll titles give thee for thy lasting fame.Nicholas Hodgson

E’er since you told the world my breasts be dunYour wife has known by whom they’ve been undone.And

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