Vice versa | 11 February 2006

Vice versa

In Competition No. 2429 you were invited to write a poem in praise of one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

It was the Reverend Sydney Smith who, as Keith Norman appropriately reminded me, came down to breakfast smiling and announced that he had had a beautiful dream: that there were seven Articles and 39 Deadly Sins. Because we all willingly admit to it, sloth was the most popular sin. The poet James Thomson, who was said to be so lazy that he couldn’t be bothered to reach out to pluck a peach, nevertheless wrote a long poem entitled ‘The Castle of Indolence’. Avarice and envy proved hard to praise. Commendations go to Mary Holtby, Paul Griffin, Jeremy Lawrence and Michael Swan. The prizewinners, printed below, have £25 each, and Lindsay Staniforth lifts the bonus fiver.

Its deadliness is in the second league:
Sins of omission seem to do small harm.
If queried, one can always plead fatigue,
And lingering between the sheets
One has a sense that one defeats
The threats that lurk around the streets.
Sloth has its charm.

The other vices can incur a debt:
The joys of idleness are free to all.
Where indolence is bliss it’s mad to sweat.
The dolce far niente vita
Proves to every lotus-eater
Laziness than work is sweeter;
Has been since the Fall.
Lindsay Staniforth

Those other six sins we might mention
All indicate stress of some kind,
A tiring emotional tension
To trouble the sufferer’s mind.

How perfect, how much more appealing,
That effortless state we call Sloth,
Which needs neither action nor feeling
But simply an absence of both;

It’s less of a sin than a virtue,
As idleness surely makes sense
With people unwilling to hurt you
While you never cause them offence.

Dear Sloth, I am ill at these numbers,
As Hamlet disarmingly said;
Forgive me, it’s time for my slumbers —
I’ll praise you much better in bed!
Godfrey Bullard

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