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Coffee House Culture House Daily

Spectator competition: recast a nursery rhyme in the style of a well-known author (plus pets who perish in unusual ways)

16 August 2014

9:28 AM

16 August 2014

9:28 AM

I was prompted to ask for short odes on the death of a pet in unusual circumstances by Thomas Gray’s poem ‘Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes’. Gray wrote this charming and witty cautionary tale in 1747 in memory of Horace Walpole’s beloved tabby Selima, whose desire leads her to a watery demise. ‘She stretched in vain to reach the prize./ What female heart can gold despise?/ What cat’s averse to fish?’

D.A. Prince’s winning composition below has strong echoes of Gray and there was plenty of wit and charm on display elsewhere in the entry. Commendations to Poppy McLean, John-Paul Marney, Martin Parker and Anita Howard.

The odes printed below earn their authors £25 each. The bonus fiver is Chris O’Carroll’s.

Chris O’Carroll
The budgie on my mantelpiece,
That gem of taxidermic art,
Lived blithe until his sad decease.
He pecks yet at my grieving heart.

I kept him in an unlocked cage,
Intending that he might live free.
Well-meaning fool, I set the stage
For avian catastrophe.

Badminton was my game the day
He found a window open wide.
Eager to join with me at play,
He spread his wings and soared outside.

[Alt-Text]


The brisk, firm sound a racquet makes —
How bitterly that thwock! must mock
The heartsore slayer who mistakes
A birdie for a shuttlecock.

Mike Morrison
O ai, my ai, for you I cry —
My friend, fair three-toed sloth;
I lost your sister, now you’re gone
As well; I loved you both.
Shy Guy, fond ai, you climbed too high
Into that undergrowth,
Your hideaway, the trumpet-tree;
To recall your fall, I’m loth.
One fateful slip, cruel, careless trip
That tumbled you to earth —
Quite lost your grip — Thud! – smashed each
        hip:
How little is life worth.
Bye-bye, dear ai: I dabbed each eye,
Interred you in the ground
Then blessed your soul; I sighed, heart-whole —
You lived and died uncrowned.

Alan Millard
My hamster, being musical —
A maestro some would say,
Adored my Grand Piano
And would pine to hear me play.
Since Beethoven was bound to please
I’d let her sit upon the keys
And squeak in time to Fur Elise
Until that fateful day,
The day she jumped and disappeared,
And still I feel the sting
When, playing Fur Elise, I hear
That deadened, doleful ping:
One note among the sweeter strains
That now perpetually pains
And marks my hamster’s last remains
Stuck to the B flat string.

D.A. Prince
’Twas in the garden’s summer shade
We placed the bowl so Goldie played
In dappled sunlight, pied.
Fresh air for one confined all year
Within a perfect crystal sphere,
And safely lodged inside.

Our youngest’s favourite fish; his care
Ensured that Goldie had full share
Of all the family’s love.
Untroubled he swam round and round
Until that fateful feathered sound:
O Nemesis above!

The heron saw and dived and ate;
’Twas Goldie, speared, was on his plate.
His one memorial, this bowl
That once contained a fishy soul.

Brian Allgar
I’d bought a parrot from my local shop;
‘Norwegian Blue’, the owner proudly told me.
I couldn’t wait to see it prance and hop,
And start to educate the bird he’d sold me.
But when I got it home, it never stirred.
I took it back, indignantly protesting:
‘The thing’s defunct!’ The owner said ‘Absurd!
This parrot isn’t dead, he’s simply resting.’
I glared at him, and bought an alligator;
He smirked and smarmed, the fraudulent
        poltroon.
Wielding my pet, I smashed his skull. The crater
Was worthy of the landscape of the Moon.

That little bastard’s head was very tough; it
Had sadly caused my brand-new pet to snuff it.

Bill Greenwell
Well! If the troglodyte that mad’st the wheel
     Wert here to see his handiwork in motion,
       Methinks he’d wail and weep a copious ocean
T’observe how Hampton, strumming sole and heel
       Turned his exercise
       Before our startled eyes
’Til, cheeks aglow, and fame his only spur,
He thence became a faint, implosive blur –
       As if its spinning speed
       Had driven him to smash that barrier
       Broken by Typhoon, broken by Harrier.
              Calamity indeed:
For a hamster consisteth of sub-atomic particles,
       Yet now his whiskers, his tiny tail,
       Art spread, to a child’s distress, in a trail
Of indefinite articles.

Your next challenge is to recast a nursery rhyme in the style of a well-known author (verse or prose). Please email entries of up to 16 lines or 150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 27 August.

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