Lucy Vickery

Second hand

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In Competition No. 2759 you were invited to submit a well-known poem rewritten by another well-known poet. You were outstandingly good this week and there are lots of unlucky losers. Honourable mentions to Graham King, Janet Kenny, Jerome Betts, Barbara Smoker and Gerard Benson and a hearty pat on the back all round. Those printed below earn £25 each; Noel Petty takes the extra fiver.

The church tower casts an ever-lengthening shade

And evening cloaks the dismal rural scene.

Beneath these stones the hamlet’s dead are laid.

How devilish dull their living must have been!

No claret, cards or courtesans repaid

Their tedious agricultural routine.

I fancy, though, if I’d been humble clay

I’d still have found some fun along the way.

A would-be Virgil may be buried here

Whose rural verse ne’er saw the printed page;

Perhaps a village Socrates lies near

Who played his days out as a rustic sage;

And ’neath these solemn yews a well-tuned ear

Might hear a Homer for our fallen age.

He might have been a Wordsworth, though,

instead —

Now there’s a horrid thought to take to bed.

Noel Petty/Byron does Thomas Gray

Out on the tide a verdant vessel goes,

Owl on the prow and Pussy at the helm;

Hunger and Want forbear to overwhelm

A craft where Hybla’s sweets and folded wealth


Then, lo! this amorous Owl

Soft plucks the sounding string:

‘Fair Pussy, lovely past compare’

Is all his theme, and she the graceful Fowl

Admires in turn and loves to hear him sing.

Mark the year and mark the day

When into Bong Tree Land they find their way

And find Sir Pigwig there,

Who gladly yields for coin his nasal ring,

Wherewith next day their solemn troth they plight.

A rich repast they share,

Then dance, entwined, by Phoebe’s kindly light.

Mary Holtby/Thomas Gray does Edward Lear

Though fondly foolish parents strive to raise

Their cherish’d offspring in auspicious ways

Such sanguine efforts breed, as if accurs’d,

A doom’d posterity with wits dispers’d,

Hearts wrung by anguish, volatile in mind,

To rage and melancholia inclin’d.

In truth that elder generation’s fate

Had been alike, estopp’d from growing straight

By their begetters, beings uninspir’d,

As dull in thought as anciently attir’d,

Now gravely pietistic, now with howls

Intent to savage one another’s bowels.

With what sure aim does suffering descend;

In what despair do fair beginnings end.

Be wise: abbreviate thy mortal term

And, childless, speed thy progress to the worm.

Basil Ransome-Davies/Alexander Pope does

Philip Larkin

It was three-thirty in afternoon in the time of the


Steam rising up in surprise, and the summer heat

All whispering and shimmer, it was blessing and



But the station empty as Tuesday chapel

With the fast train casting its shadowsong

Under cloudwhite and singing as willowy choristers

Wild as herb

With the ricks rising up under sun-blazoned day,

And the counties grew round, earnest in burning

In cotswold quiet.

There could I feel myself held in burlesque

Of burnished sky

Blackbird throating as the soloist

Echoed in hymnals and the psalms of lostbirds

All of them smoke-eyed, dewy, a great congregation.

Bill Greenwell/Dylan Thomas does Edward Thomas

A Tiger came by night — ablaze —

It had the shape of Fear —

I — cowered — at the awful Might

No mortal Thing could bear.

Whose ‘fiat’ loosed it — on the Earth —

Whose furnace fired its eyes?

On whose anvil lay the iron

That now its Soul supplies?

Is this where mortal Dread is forged —

The jaws of Darkness cast?

Where Horror’s wrought — beyond the Mind —

And Nothing’s left — to last?

Or is the Terror holy Flame —

To burn the false — and sham?

Am I to bow — before the Beast —

Then kneel — beside the Lamb?

W.J. Webster/Emily Dickinson does Blake

To put it bluntly, Daddy, you are an individual

whom I cordially dislike.

I would go so far as to compare you to a dark,

sinister figure from Hell or the Third Reich.

My words of bitterness and resentment I am not

inclined to mince.

They buried you when I was just ten years old, and

I have been a psychological basket case ever


Being your daughter is like being delicate white

feet entombed in coffin-like black shoes

(Or, even worse, like being married to Ted Hughes).

I do not scruple to liken myself to a Holocaust

victim even though I am not Jewish.

That is how much our perverse family dynamics have knocked my sense of appropriateness


I’m through with this pointless palaver.

For years I’ve been making bids to join you as a


Chris O’Carroll/Ogden Nash does Sylvia Plath

No. 2762: Sexed up

This summer Pan Macmillan is publishing Jane Eyre Laid Bare, an erotic reimagining of the Charlotte Brontë classic. You are invited to submit an extract from your own racy retelling of a classic work of literature (150 words maximum). Please email entries, wherever possible, to by midday on 29 August.