William Congreve wrote, in the Epistle Dedicatory to his 1693 comedy The Double-Dealer, that it is the business of a comic poet to paint the vice and follies of humankind — so I thought I would give you the opportunity to do just that. The task I set in the most recent competition was to paint an amusing portrait, in verse of up to 16 lines, of humankind’s sins and stupidity.
Gail White’s entry expressed doubt that ‘the vices of our flesh and minds’ can ‘be contained in sixteen lines’. But John O’Byrne, keeping things short if not sweet, boiled it all down into a haiku: ‘My new credit card/ Means I can buy happiness./ Where did I go wrong?’.
Commiserations go to unlucky losers Ray Kelley and Mike Morrison, who were narrowly squeezed out by Sylvia Fairley and her fellow winners below. Ms Fairley is rewarded with £35; the rest take £30 each.
Oh, the folly of man adds a frisson to life
that is otherwise empty and grey;
we can nurture, for spice, the occasional vice,
it will tend to keep boredom at bay.
When we’ve swallowed a skinful and binged
through the night,
sung Abba and danced in the buff,
and we wake up in pain with a thirst that’s
well, it’s clear we’re not drinking enough.
We’ll indulge to excess, for we have to confess
humankind was designed to have fun — see
the oodles of grease that will make us obese —
pile it on, it won’t show in a onesie.
If we feel like a smoke, though the doc says we’ll
let us light up, inhale and forget,
while we share smutty sports and intimate
with our two million ‘friends’ on the net.
The only reason to exist,
One’s parents having tupped,
Is to continue what lies in you,
The power to corrupt.
The man is father to the child
Whatever poets spout:
Should goodness burgeon, play the surgeon —
Be quick and cut it out.
The murderer, the psychopath
Are pleasures to be sung —
We publicise their crimes and lies
And like to feed their tongue.
It’s no fun being nice and neat
Or a chinless, sinless wonder —
A curse on spring, we’d rather swing
To the grumble of some thunder.
Douglas G. Brown
Though blessed with intellect and brawn, man’s
born a slave to Folly;
His Gluttony of food and drink results in
Man’s Lust infects his flesh and blood with
And Avarice will make him steal most anything
Green Envy eats away man’s soul and torments
And Sloth will lead him blindly down the path
of least resistance.
His Wrath inspires homicide, which loads a
While Pride provokes the likes of me to pen
But lovely woman, blessed with grace, inspires
And saves this cus-sed human race from
‘Lettuce spray,’ the bishop spat, ‘for all who lose
And choose the wide and easy road that leads,
Who, falling on to stony ground with weeds on
Succumb to lust and gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath,
Those deadly sins we all despise that everywhere
And, sadly, sully all whose seeds are sown on
The first and worst of these is lust which all
around we see,
A sin the Sun supports (I’m told) in colour on
Next gluttony and greed, twin sins that righteous
One scoffing everything it can, the other craving
Then sloth, which wrath and envy stirs in all who
have to work
And break their backs to pay the tax supporting
those who shirk.
So lettuce spray,’ he spat again, ‘for all who go
And, tempted by the road to hell, reject the
Then, gathering up his sumptuous cope with
He, proudly, donned his mitre and descended to
The seven deadly sins? I’ve tried them all,
And frankly, most of them begin to pall.
Take Wrath, a sin whose benefits I question,
For anger gives me acid indigestion.
The sin of Pride leads other men astray,
But I’m a humble chap, I’m proud to say.
And Envy — what? Your car, your job, your life?
No thanks … and I’ve already had your wife.
I find that Gluttony is over-rated;
Why stuff myself when I’m completely sated?
Greed is a sin I utterly deplore
In others — I, of course, need much, much more.
I can’t deny that Sloth has its attraction,
And there are days when I prefer inaction.
But Lust — now there’s a sin I really sigh for:
Those tempting bottoms, breasts, and legs to die for!
Your next challenge is to submit an extract from either a gripping thriller or a bodice-ripping romance containing half a dozen pieces of inconsequential information. Please email entries of up to 150 words, marked Competition No. 2844, to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 16 April.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.