Lucy Vickery

Speeches as sonnets

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In Competition No. 3117 you were invited to recast a famous political speech as a sonnet.

Lots of you went for Elizabeth I’s address to the troops at Tilbury, but James Aske got there first in 1588, with a verse reworking  that appeared in Elizabetha Triumphans, his celebration of the Armada victory.

Well done: 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.

It’s time to close the curtain on this farce,

Your petty squabblings and your rotten cores.

You call yourselves a Parliament? My arse!

You’re 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 can’t remain;

You have no more religion than my horse!

The nation hates you; you were voted here

To ease the people’s 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 God’s name, lock the doors and bugger off!

Ann Drysdale/Cromwell’s speech to the Commons, 1653

My loving people, though I have been warned

To shun the crowds, for trouble may befall,

You’ll find it is advice that I have scorned,

I plan to dice with death beside you all.

A woman’s weak, they say; I’ll play my part,

Let me assure the troops that I’ve got balls

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

And stomach of a king when duty calls.

I’ll cheer you on, while shouting ‘All aboard!’

And launch the greatest victory of my reign,

We’ll overpower this wild, Hispanic horde

And free our country from the threat of Spain.

If any prince of Europe should invade

We’ll fight — take back control — we’re not afraid!

Sylvia Fairley/Queen Elizabeth I, Tilbury, 1588

Our fathers eighty-seven years ago

Conceived a nation where all men were free

And proudly equal. Can such nations, though,

Endure? This civil struggle’s set to be

The test of that; of this great field of war

We dedicate this portion as a grave,

Though it’s already consecrated more

By those who here fought hard and died, the brave.

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 we’re to prove these men died not in vain,

The form of government we proudly cherish

Of, by and for the people must not perish.

George Simmers/Gettysburg Address, 1863

If statecraft were a thing of will or might,

Th’electors’ will should be supreme, I own;

But ’tis, or should be, Wisdom’s 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 th’electors’, yet for none

May I spurn Reason’s 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 Clifton’s crest,

Despise the gulls that scud the Avon’s slime.

Fergus Cullen/Burke’s address to the electors of Bristol, 1774

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 tradition’s 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 kingship’s many arrows and each sling,

May God protect my brother, your new King!

Martin Parker/Edward VIII’s abdication speech, 1936

It’s not a secret any longer, chums:

By fourteen points, our new devaluation.

We couldn’t beat these speculator bums,

Nor all who’d try an arm-lock on our nation.

You’ve 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…

We’ve stuffed their wagers. Imports may be pricy,

But what a chance for UK salesmen too:

More produce! Jobs to follow! Nothing dicey!

Let’s plug our pipes and have a decent brew.

It doesn’t mean your pocket or your purse

Or bank account will shrink. It’s Britain First!

Bill Greenwell/Harold Wilson’s devaluation speech, 1967

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 she’d raise her voice and scream

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

This honourable lady, stern but strong,

I’ve, 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!

Alan Millard/Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech, 1990

No. 3120: back space

In 1969 a competition was set in this magazine inviting poems commemorating man’s first landing on the moon. You are invited 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 lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 9 October.