Lucy Vickery

Rhyme time | 4 September 2014

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In Competition No. 2863 you were invited to recast a well-known nursery rhyme in the style of a well-known author. The entry was evenly split between prose and poetry but in general verse worked better. Commendations go to Chris Port, Mike Morrison, Max Ross, Nick MacKinnon, Adrian Fry and Mark Shelton. The winners earn £25 each. Chris O’Carroll takes £30.

Once upon a sturdy tuffet sat a maid

the world calls Muffet,

Dining on a wholesome bowl of dairy

oddments, curds with whey.

On a sudden, just beside her, she espied

a loathsome spider;

Cold abhorrence surged inside her.

She could find no words to say,

No ejaculations suited to convey her

deep dismay,

Not a single word to say.

Vile arachnids, large and hairy, tender

lactovores find scary,

So the frighted maid abandoned all her

curds and all her whey.

Muffet gazed upon the spinner of silk

traps to snare its dinner,

Felt her vitals churn within her, knew

she could not stay and play.

In the presence of this insect-eating

fiend she dared not stay.

Up she sprang and ran away.

Chris O’Carroll/Edgar Allan Poe

Smiley shook out his umbrella before entering.

‘Raining,’ said the constable at the door. ‘Indeed pouring, if I may venture an opinion, sir.’

The old man lay in bed upstairs, making a gross, piggish noise. The room smelt of mothballs and a picture of Brighton Pavilion hung lopsidedly over the mantelpiece. A medic was already there.

‘Occipital damage,’ he said. ‘In lay terms, he bumped his head. Odd thing is, it seems to have happened after he went to bed.’

‘He’s in a coma?’

‘Probably. He certainly couldn’t get up this morning We’ll know more later.’

‘Snoring in a coma?’

‘That will happen if the airways become obstructed.’

Smiley watched the raindrops slide down the window, then vanish. It had the smell of one of Karla’s sandbaggers. Or was that too obvious? It could be a decoy, a trap. Either way, it would take all the tradecraft he had.

G.M. Davis/John le Carré

Legs doubling as fingers,

The spider felt its neat way

Into a downspout’s black maw.

Settled, it spun silk lashings

To work as a homely abattoir.

Tuned to a fly’s writhings

It sensed no sluice until

A bolt of water struck it down

And out into the bright air.

Then it was jetsam, grounded,

Limbs and body a draggled tangle:

It upped itself like a wet foal,

Touched drying land and ran

Frantic in its mortal panic

Out of the open light

And back inside the sheltering mouth.

W.J. Webster/Ted Hughes

He who would rodents three

Spare from disaster,

Let him, though blind they be,

Bid them run faster.

There’s naught so cruel in life

Than some foul farmer’s wife

Who wields her carving knife

To maim a mouse tail.

True ’tis, that lacking pace,

Three mice, unsighted,

Struck thus while giving chase

Now languish blighted.

So, pilgrims, armed with knives,

Forewarned of farmers’ wives,

Strike down whoever strives

To maim a mouse tail.

Alan Millard/John Bunyan

They fucked me up, those soldier chaps;

It may have been unwittingly,

Or then again — who knows? — perhaps

The bastards had it in for me.

They glued me back as best they could,

But got it wrong; they stuck my nose

Right up my arse, which isn’t good,

And testicles in place of toes.

So when they saw what they had done,

Did they apologise? Not half!

They thought it all tremendous fun —

Even their horses had to laugh.

If you’re an egg, avoid great falls;

You’d be irreparably cracked.

Take my advice: don’t sit on walls,

And try to keep your shell intact.

Brian Allgar/Philip Larkin

Is there anybody there, said the Blackbird

With a vengeful look in its eye,

While the smell of its baking colleagues

Rose up from the royal game pie.

But nobody answered the Blackbird;

No voice, downstairs or up,

Spoke out to admit to the plat du jour

On which they would shortly sup.

But the greedy King in his counting-house

And the pie-cook washing her smalls,

Plus the Queen with her bread and honey,

Had heard the Blackbird’s calls.

And they heard the screech of its fury, too,

And the sound of beak on bone

And how the birds began to sing

When the pie-cook’s nose was gone.

Martin Parker/Walter de la Mare

No 2866: prose poem

You are invited to pick a well-known poem and write a short story with the same title using the poem’s opening and closing lines to begin and end the story. Please email entries of up to 150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 17 September.