This time round you were asked to submit Shakespeare’s newly discovered ‘Woeful ballad to his mistress’ eyebrows’, as referred to by Jaques in As You Like It (‘…And then the lover,/ Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad/ Made to his mistress’ eyebrow…’).
For the purposes of this challenge, a ballad could be any sort of poem (most of you wrote sonnets) and anachronisms were allowed. The prizewinners, in another fiercely contested week, take £20.
What blessing crowns thy outward loveliness?
A coiffed, enrapturing head of sable hair
That blazes rank above the common press.
Yet there is hair invisible elsewhere.
Those secret, curling wisps that underlie
Thy gorgeous panoply of silk and lace
Intemperately appear to my mind’s eye,
Prompting low stirrings in another place.
Then as I spur my mind to higher things,
I worship at thy temple, where twin arcs,
As softly supple as the downy wings
Of fledgling finches, flaunt the swooping marks
Of grace and beauty both. Thereon I dwell,
Love’s prisoner in his chaste, adoring cell.
Suave eyebrow, can’t you guess how much I suffer?
Last evening your sweet owner heard me praised,
And straight away I saw you archly raised,
Implying I’m the merest twerp or duffer.
Then later, when I tried to hint I care,
You and your lovely twin slid swiftly down
To darkly shape a grim excluding frown,
Then, sloping nosewards, framed a hostile stare.
And yet, the more I’m shunned, the more I feel
A mighty love for eyebrows so expressive,
The more I’m driven by a hope obsessive
That all my dreams one day might be made real
When you and your dear partner rise above
Wide-irised eyes, all open to my love.
My mistris Brows, th’art black as Soot
But ah! thou both be bonny
Though dark as silken Bumbershoot
Thou curvest as the Lyre or Lute
When heartstruck Lovers sing
Each furry as the Bandicoot
Like Caterpillars at a root,
Thou bristle, writhe or loll
And feed like Moss upon yon Fruit
Of Hemp thy thickness, or of Jute
And richest in the Middle
Like a Bruin must I make thy bruit
‘Why gaze thee not into mine eyes,’
Asked she, ‘but on some point above?’
‘In truth,’ said I, ‘I’ll tell no lies,
Thy brows intrigue me more my love.’
‘Indeed!’ quoth she, ‘Pray tell me, do,
Why so?’ ‘Because,’ did I retort,
‘They have an oddly ginger hue
And being burnt seem strangely short.’
‘’Twas Raleigh bid me try’, she cried,
‘Tobacco,’ whereon she did cringe,
‘Thus, foolishly to smoke I tried
And thereby did my eyebrows singe.’
Despoiled, alas, with both brows burned
She forthwith hid them ’neath her hood,
And, chastened, said, ‘This have I learned:
Nought from America brings good.’
My mistress’ eyebrows measure her disdain,
Their form describes her ever changing mood,
Yet when she frowns on me I try in vain
To curb a passion that must be subdued.
Those hirsute curves, perchance I fall from grace,
Are lock’d in disapproval and despair;
I little care if she be fair of face,
Whilst suff’ring torment from her facial hair.
A knitted brow — forsooth, I dread this sign,
Methinks when thus, I’d leave the stage to Marlowe,
Brows meeting in a fierce and rigid line,
A phantom of the future — Frida Kahlo.
Those eyes so fine, I fear what lurks above,
To threaten and, alas, destroy my love.
My mistress’ brows are more than I can bear.
It takes her half an hour to draw them on,
The outsides pointy and the insides square,
A new, unnatural phenomenon.
Great slabs of black they seem, crudely defined.
The arbitrary lines above her nose
Are always marginally misaligned
As are the two thick wings that spring from those.
The pretty whiskers that I loved to kiss
Are now subsumed beneath these dark usurpers
And all her mystic metamorphosis
Is concentrated on a single purpose.
She little cares for eyelid, lip or cheek
Now that her eyebrows have to be on fleek.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like bald pates
Uncrowned by glossy ornaments of hair.
The portals to her soul are sacred gates
Both overarched by pennants brave and fair.
Mark how expressively twin emblems rise,
Hover, sink, knit together, draw apart
In tender or tormented exercise.
Heart’s truth they blazon in swift glide and dart.
One languid lift or playful slant can spell
A boor’s dismissal or a lover’s tryst.
A pair on high high wonder doth excel,
Eyes widened, brow by heaven’s laughter kissed.
So long as common lines praise one rare she,
Thus treasured may her smallest feature be.
In this week’s Diary Sam Leith reflects on Boris Johnson’s political career in the metre of Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’: ‘Mayor of London Boris Johnson/ Much admired the lady’s pole-dance/ Mentored well her start-up business…’. Your next challenge is to take up the story where Sam left off. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to firstname.lastname@example.org by mid-day on 1 January.