Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: ‘I met a traveller from an antique land’ – poems about passports

Spectator competition winners: ‘I met a traveller from an antique land’ – poems about passports
Text settings

The latest challenge was to provide a poem about passports.

While the news that British passports issued after October of next year will be navy blue rather than burgundy was heartily cheered in some quarters, others — like Nicola Sturgeon, who denounced it as ‘insular nonsense’ — weren’t so delighted. And others still wondered what all the fuss was about.

The full spectrum of opinion was reflected in a small but punchy entry, and in the winning line-up. Commendations go to David Silverman’s ‘Jerusalem’-inspired verse, and to Frank Upton, Sylvia Fairley and Fiona Pitt-Kethley, who also shone.

The winners printed below are rewarded with £25. Basil Ransome-Davies pockets the extra fiver.

Basil Ransome-Davies

I got my first at age eleven,

A ticket to another land

Guaranteed by Ernest Bevin.

It felt like freedom in my hand.

I saw the Rhineland’s saddened state

Six years after the war we won;

My passport meant I couldn’t hate

The fallen enemy, the Hun.

A dynasty of documents

In midnight blue (or black) unbent

Any contorted inference

That Englishness was heaven-sent.

My present one is burgundy.

The face in it is bald and lined.

Old Ernie Bevin’s history.

But passport-wise, I’m colour-blind.

Brian Allgar

Dear kind Britannic Majesty, I write

Most humbly, as I’ve done throughout your reign,

Imploring you to use your royal might

To get me out of trouble once again.

Although my passport’s British, here’s my plight:

I find myself unfairly stuck in Spain,

Imprisoned out of anti-British spite.

The charge? A mere three kilos of cocaine!

So please remind these chaps that you request


Indeed, require! That’s admirably bolder —

That I should freely pass at your behest;

No hindrance for a British passport-holder.

Your words upon my passport should prevail,

According to my Spanish-speaking lawyer;

But if your royal eloquence should fail,

Please send a Navy gunship or destroyer.

D.A. Prince

I met a traveller from an antique land

who said: I know you think it’s set in stone

some proud blue British passport in your hand

will charm away the threat of foreign frown.

You think it gives priority, command

and status — something you can take as read;

that you can stroll through barriers and things,

not wait where lesser-passport folks are led.

But lift your eyes: though circling stars appear

they do not beckon you. Those starry rings

welcome those others. Look! and then despair

the wreckage that has brought you this decay,

and how your love of boundaries means you’ll


this long and weary queue, stretched far away.

Max Ross

We’re travelling to the past by train

To bonnie Aberdeen

Where Salmond’s shooting Sassenachs

And Nicola’s a queen.

The Bruce is still at Bannockburn

Awaiting young King Eddie.

We’re coming to the border so

Our passports must be ready.

The land o’ thistles got its way

In referendum eight

And Caledonia became

An independent state.

We’re stopping now to let the guards

Inspect our English train,

And having had our passports stamped

We’ll venture north again.

Alanna Blake

When I consider how my life was spent

In business travel all across the earth

And, as I bore the proof of British birth,

Respected highly everywhere I went,

This royal coat of arms for decades meant

I was indeed a document of worth,

I thought that I would never see a dearth

Of welcome visas to each continent.

But now I lie abandoned on a shelf

Beneath some old Spectators, such is fate!

This photo shows a distant, faded youth,

With none to care about it but myself.

I’m useless now and blue and out of date,

I can’t pass anywhere. Life’s final truth.

Frank McDonald

Ring in a passport that will please

And make us proud of who we are;

A passport that proclaims afar

This was the land that ruled the seas.

Ring in the tough, unyielding blue

The sign that British stands for best;

A land that towered above the rest.

Ring in the nation that we knew.

Ring out the limp, lacklustre red

The symbol of a servile state,

Branding our country second rate.

Ring out the woes to which we’re wed.

Bring back the passport we withdrew

When we abandoned being great.

Ring in a document of weight

Crowned with a crown, in navy blue.

Your next challenge is to provide a poem entitled ‘The Love Song of [insert name of a well-known figure, dead or alive, here]’. Please email entries, Eliot-style or otherwise, to by midday on 7 February (16 lines maximum).