Submissions to the latest competition, which invited you to provide a poetic preview of when the lights go out, were impressively varied and kept me thoroughly entertained. Honourable mentions go to Katie Mallett, who had Betjeman in mind (‘Fetch out the candles, Norman…’), and to Sylvia Fairley, who was in double-dactylic mood: ‘Jittery-tickery/ Grid electricity/ won’t last for ever, you’d/ better beware…’ Others unlucky to miss out on a place in the winning line-up are Chris O’Carroll, Davina Prince and Pamela Dow.
Those that cut the mustard are printed below and are rewarded with £25 each. Alan Millard takes £30.
And will the lights fade one by one,
Fade one by one,
As each man’s dwindling day is done
And dark descends,
A world where every waning light
Brings others, waxing, into sight
To burn until, in turn, the night
Their daylight ends?
Or will the darkness come about,
Ay, come about,
When every light at once goes out
And all is gone,
No time for penitence or prayer,
A sudden end with all wiped bare
And not the faintest glimmer where
The sun once shone?
Where are you going to, horrid humanity?
God’s in his heaven and man is in hell.
See what you’ve done with religious insanity;
Hope in her sickness has nothing to sell.
We have sent satellites into infinity,
Walked on the moon and we’ve analysed Mars;
Still we’re obsessed with an absent divinity
Hiding his face in a cluster of stars.
Look how we murder and label it piety;
Slaughtering children, we think God approves.
Dangerous darkness descends on society;
Nothing to stop it in Paradise moves.
Over the planet with godly authority
Brutes are extinguishing all that was light.
Watchers we wait in a muted majority;
Gentle we go into culture’s goodnight.
The closing ceremony of The End
Will likely be a Dylanesque affair.
The junkie poet and the millionaire,
The hooker and the clown will all attend.
Providing Health & Safety give the nod,
There will be fireworks, just one small display.
Apocalypses have to pay their way.
No sponsors for this show, not even God.
The late editions of the global press
Vociferously argue who’s to blame.
The Pope is hopeful, ‘scriptum est’ his claim.
Few share the uplift of his Holiness.
This is the finish. No more second chances.
The souvenirs and T-shirts hardly sell.
The band plays Alice Cooper’s ‘Go to Hell’
As permanight begins. Nobody dances.
My wife’s a nagger. ‘Did you lock the door?
And don’t forget to turn off all the lights,
Then put the cat out.’ ‘Yes, dear.’ More and
Her whining voice disturbs my peaceful nights.
I make my way upstairs, my chores all done,
Or so I think — but still she’s not content.
‘Oh, did you switch the coffee-maker on?
The wheelie-bin? The money for the rent?’
So down I go. Again, I hear her call:
‘And while you’re there, I’d like a glass of milk.
Oh, no! You’ve left the light on in the hall!’
I dream of twisting handkerchieves of silk…
I really hate the miserable old bat,
A nagger and a scold, a constant groaner.
‘Put out the light, and then put out the cat —’
She’s lucky that her name’s not Desdemona.
The lamps are going out, said Lord Grey,
In 1914, on that August night.
They will not be lit again. And he was right.
It has stayed dark ever since that day,
When even with Very lights you could not see
Them dying on the Somme, or at Gallipoli.
Treaties could not drive the night away.
Only flames flickered (burning books to begin)
Then torch-processions in Nuremberg or in
Ex oriente lux, they say.
In Hiroshima a new age had begun
With a brief light brighter than a thousand rising
There is no need for previews, anyway,
Your lamps were never lit again, Lord Grey.
Guns, bombs, unreason, and religious rages
Still keep us in the Dark Ages.
Still, we wait. The matron speaks,
Makes her best Gestapo noise.
Her pink eyes blink. Her perfume reeks.
Here goes it: ‘Now then, lights out, boys.’
Quietly we’ve waited for her
Shoes, insensible, to fade —
And soon the absence of her aura
Means that she’ll be disobeyed.
When she leaves, her shadow jagged,
The beds will shiver with debauch:
Edgar Wallace, Rider Haggard,
Half-lit by a three-tone torch.
The spindly leads, the button plugs,
Transistors tuned to 208 —
We lie there, addicts for our drugs.
She’s itched the switch off. Still, we wait.
Chidiock Tichborne wrote his own elegy, ‘Tichborne’s Elegy’, in 1586, the night before his execution for treason. Your next challenge is to submit an elegy written by a poet of your choice (please specify) for him or herself. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 10 September.
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.