Lucy Vickery

Watching the clock

In Competition No. 3015 you were invited to submit a poem about Big Ben’s bongs.
The decision to remove the 13-tonne bell during the four-year restoration works on Elizabeth Tower has caused a right old ding-dong, with senior ministers, including the PM, joining the fray.
There were lots of poems about health and safety gone mad, though given that being at close quarters to the Great Bell’s 120-decibel bong is the equivalent of putting your ear right next to a police siren, I am not so sure about that. Commendations go to Nathan Weston and Adam Rylander (aged 15). And with echoes of Wordsworth, Gray, Auden, Lear and Newbolt echoing in my ears, I award the bonus fiver to Bill Greenwell. The rest take £25.

We were first pets of Bosanquet,
Burnet and Sandy Gall:
Sonorous, we tried to whet the appetite of all —
ITN is never wrong!
Bong! and Bong! and Bong! and Bong!
When the hammer strikes our bell,
We fly from out his throat:
Deep as from an ancient well, our half-hypnotic note —
Listen to our one-sound song:
Bong! and Bong! and Bong! and Bong!
Now we must rest, and that’s a fact:
We’re like the government —
Ponderous, a little cracked, no instinct to repent:
Hear the ding-dong of its throng!
Bong! and Bong! and Bong! and Bong!
Bill Greenwell
Since eighteen fifty-nine, Big Ben has tolled
the hours of one to twelve for England’s peers;
yet wear-and-tear has put his voice on hold
and stopped his hands, his clapper, wheels and gears.
His stately bongs, before, were briefly stayed
by zeppelins, by resting birds, by snow;
a fallen workman’s hammer once delayed
repairs while German bombers struck their blow.
Today, uncanny silence looms until
a four-year spell, replete with doubts and fears,
has passed; but ne’er did such a bitter pill
taste better for the chimes of coming years.
Rejuvenation’s borrowed at a cost —
a bell un-struck marks time forever lost.
Paul Freeman
There’s a breathless hush over Bridge Street,
All along the Embankment as well;
Poor worthies of Whitehall, bereft of
The adagio bongs of their bell.

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