Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: Speeches as sonnets

Spectator competition winners: Speeches as sonnets
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Your latest challenge was to recast a famous political speech as a sonnet. Lots of you opted for Elizabeth I’s address to the troops at Tilbury, but James Aske got there first in 1588, the year she gave it, with a verse reworking that appeared in Elizabetha Triumphans, his celebration of the Armada victory.

You were on mischievous form this week and clearly gave careful thought to your choice of speech. The winners, who each pocket £20, are printed below. First up is Ann Drysdale’s version of Cromwell’s dissolution of the rump parliament.

Ann Drysdale/Cromwells speech to the Commons, 1653

Its time to close the curtain on this farce,

Your petty squabblings and your rotten cores.

You call yourselves a Parliament? My arse!

Youre just a gathering of thieves and whores.

You sell your country for your private gain,

Betray your God for profit, which is worse.

You mercenary wretches cant remain;

You have no more religion than my horse!

The nation hates you; you were voted here

To ease the peoples grievances. This place

Has now become their greatest grievance. Clear

This sacred hall! Remove that stupid Mace!

Now take your greedy noses from the trough

In Gods name, lock the doors and bugger off!

Sylvia Fairley/Queen Elizabeth I, Tilbury, 1588 

My loving people, though I have been warned

To shun the crowds, for trouble may befall,

Youll find it is advice that I have scorned,

I plan to dice with death beside you all.

A womans weak, they say; Ill play my part,

Let me assure the troops that Ive got balls

And, in the midst of war, I have the heart

And stomach of a king when duty calls.

Ill cheer you on, while shouting All aboard!

And launch the greatest victory of my reign,

Well overpower this wild, Hispanic horde

And free our country from the threat of Spain.

If any prince of Europe should invade

Well fight take back control were not afraid!

George Simmers/Gettysburg Address, 1863

Our fathers eighty-seven years ago

Conceived a nation where all men were free

And proudly equal. Can such nations, though,

Endure? This civil struggles set to be

The test of that; of this great field of war

We dedicate this portion as a grave,

Though its already consecrated more

By those who here fought hard and died, the


Our words will be forgot; their deeds will not,

And must remind us challenges remain.

To meet these with resolve is our proud lot;

If were to prove these men died not in vain,

The form of government we proudly cherish 

Of, by and for the people must not perish. 

Fergus Cullen/Burkes address to the electors of Bristol, 1774

If statecraft were a thing of will or might,

Thelectorswill should be supreme, I own;

But tis, or should be, Wisdoms realm alone,

Who not from general will receives her right,

Nor writ of law, but from a greater Height:

Thus, while my ease and interest I disown

In preference to thelectors, yet for none

May I spurn Reasons Providential light.

In Parliament, trustees of East and West

With care and vigour spend their thought and time;

Meanwhile, those minds with party rage obsessed,

Whose highest flights reach but the lowest clime,

We should despise, as you, on Cliftons crest,

Despise the gulls that scud the Avons slime.

Martin Parker/Edward VIIIs abdication speech, 1936

The cloak of secrecy is drawn aside

And I can speak my piece across the land.

To duty I was born and I have tried

To bear its heavy burden in my hand.

Yet Church and State who claim each king their tool

Decree that happiness must be denied

To one who seeks to break traditions rule

And take as Queen a twice rejected bride.

The Crown, they say, must pass. Thus I depart

Though she I love has begged me to remain.

Now as I go I say with all my heart

While Baldwin turns the page on my brief reign

From kingships many arrows and each sling,

May God protect my brother, your new King!

Bill Greenwell/Harold Wilsons devaluation speech, 1967

Its not a secret any longer, chums:

By fourteen points, our new devaluation.

We couldnt beat these speculator bums,

Nor all whod try an arm-lock on our nation.

Youve done so much: reduced, and by a quarter,

The deficit of thirteen Tory years.

The oil sheik and the wildcat dockyard porter

Have rubbed in salt. But gamblers, oh my dears

Weve stuffed their wagers. Imports may be pricy,

But what a chance for UK salesmen too:

More produce! Jobs to follow! Nothing dicey!

Lets plug our pipes and have a decent brew.

It doesnt mean your pocket or your purse

Or bank account will shrink. Its Britain First!

Alan Millard/Geoffrey Howes resignation speech, 1990

For several hundred times in Cabinet

We met, and oft I went the extra mile

Attempting, though in vain, to reconcile

Our differences, and yet to my regret

The gulf between us only seemed to grow.

I tried to share my European dream

But when I did shed raise her voice and scream

With ever-growing passion, No! No! No!

This honourable lady, stern but strong,

Ive, loyal to the last, a long time served,

But now, bowled out, dispirited, unnerved,

I fear I might have stayed, alas, too long.

My hopes to score a six have fallen flat

First in, first out! Felled by a broken bat!

In 1969 a competition was set in this magazine inviting poems commemorating man’s first landing on the moon. Your next challenge is to submit verses, in the style of a well-known poet, reflecting on the Apollo 11 mission, 50 years on. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to by midday on 9 October.