In Competition No. 3161 you were invited to supply a sonnet with certain rhyme words to be used in a given order.
Bout-rimés contests were a favourite parlour game of Dante Rossetti and his brother William, but the given end rhymes for this assignment come from a sonnet written in the winter of 1816 by John Keats. It was also the result of a competition — Keats and his friend Leigh Hunt challenged one another to write a sonnet on the subject of ‘On the Grasshopper and Cricket’ and Keats apparently rustled one up in the space of 15 minutes (as did his opponent).
In an enormous and stellar entry, which thrummed with echoes of Keats, themes ranged from zombies to Bruce Forsyth, cricket to Thanos. It was especially difficult to whittle your fine sonnets down to a final six, and a record number of honourable mentions go to Lee Nash, Nick MacKinnon, Nick Syrett, Basil Ransome-Davies, Louise Devismes, Sasha A. Palmer, Chris Ray, Frank Upton, Ann Drysdale, Martin Elster, Bill Greenwell, Chris O’Carroll, Caroline Browne, Cameron Clark and David Harris, whose entry brought to mind Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori.
Those that made the final cut are printed below and their authors are rewarded with £25 each.
“The poetry of Keats is all but dead.Few read today of his maturing sun,Care about vines that round the thatch-eaves runOr meet his mystic belle dame in the mead.His travels in the realms of gold don’t leadTo readers who are charmed. His day is done.The modern Muse’s fans want verse that’s fun,With rappers growing eulogies from weed.A thing of beauty, he believed, would neverPass into nothingness and winter frostWould never touch the bowers where nature shrills.He thought his nightingale would sing for ever.But he was wrong. Its requiem is lost,Its melodies unheard in fancy’s hills.Frank McDonald
“Battle-worn, the warrior king was dead;he lay in state at Sutton Hoo — the sunhad set, as Raedwald’s mortal life had runits course — now mourned with brimming horns of mead.Interred within his ship, his wealth would leadhim to the Afterlife when all was done.His men, well in their cups, were bent on funwhile healer women crushed each sacred weedand herb for the embalming; now he’d never,beneath those lofty mounds, feel heat or frost,nor wake as raven croaks and night-hawk shrills.Thus, undisturbed, he might have lain for everhad not his ransom to the gods been lostwhen someone cried, ‘There’s treasure in those hills!’Sylvia Fairley
“September and the daffodils long dead;Their golden trumpets hailed the warming sun,They reigned in glory, now their race is runAnd in their place waft jasmine scents of mead.Spring’s snowdrops first which took the early leadIn heralding the year were greyed and doneWhen dandelions told the time for fun,Too vividly heroic for a weed.The leaves die back in silence so we neverPraise roots that nourish life against the frostAnd chilling wind that through the bare trees shrills.While some hear Nature’s voice go on for everEarth’s wordless poetry to me is lostWhen autumn heather fades upon the hills.Alanna Blake
“Just as for Housman, so for me — long deadThose ‘happy highways’ shining in the sun,But though my joints no longer let me runI still delight in struggling through the meadContent to follow now where others lead.Why rue times dead and gone? My day’s not done,Old dogs can learn new tricks and still have fun.Though some may choose to wither like a weedAnd wallow in nostalgia, I’ll neverLet what’s past my present pleasures frost,My ears are deaf to memory’s echoing shrillsThat seek to drown this moment’s music, everCasting shadows over joys long lost.Best let them go, those ‘blue remembered hills’!Alan Millard
“The clichés of this world are never deadAs there is nothing new beneath the sun.Thus, we must learn to walk before we run,The purest honey makes the finest mead,Fools follow well worn paths that nowhere lead,A mother’s work, alas, is never done,And dull, hardworking Jack has little fun.An unloved flower we never call a weed,And never, if we’re wise, do we say never.For every fog in March, May brings a frost,To earn his seed the caged canary shrills,While early birds will get the worms as ever.Remember, he who hesitates is lostAnd there is always gold in them there hills.Hugh King
“The quarter-year of summertime lies dead;autumnal breath saps vigour from the sunwhose daily course is ever-quickly runo’er harvest field and river-nourished mead,while skies swap steely blue for gloomy lead.The carefree months of furloughed school are done,a fast-depleted interval of fun —a perfumed flower withered to a weed;this basest plant well knows that he will neversport petals; just a collar rimed with frostto brace ’gainst coming winter’s banshee shrills,as if the season’s reign will last for everand fill the air with moans from souls long lost,entombed on icy peaks and snow-capped hills.Paul A. Freeman
No. 3164: Cento
You are invited to supply a poem in which each line comes from a different well-known poem. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 26 August. NB. We are unable to accept postal entries for the time being.