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Spectator competition winners: Autumn poems

15 October 2016

9:30 AM

15 October 2016

9:30 AM

The seasonal challenge to submit a poem about autumn in the style of the poet of your choice was predictably popular and brought in a stellar entry: high fives all round.

There were a couple of nifty twists on Philip Larkin; G.M. Southgate’s autumnal take on his poem ‘The Trees’, for example, which begins:

The trees are falling out of leaf
Like something almost being lost
They’re waiting for the autumn frost
The summer has been all too brief

And here’s a taste of Basil Ransome-Davies’s clever reworking of ‘This Be the Verse:

They let you down, the leaves on trees
That get the accolades in spring,
But five months later, if you please,
Are dead and stiff as anything.

And they were let down in their turn
By autumn weather, dull and cold,
That robbed their chance to live and learn.
Deciduous, you don’t grow old.

Susan McLean, meanwhile, introduced a grimly topical twist into the proceedings with her take on Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Raven’ — set in early November:

Like a ghastly apparition on a grim and solemn mission,
an unnerving politician pushed his way into the room,
and I had the premonition that his access code to fission
soon would cause our demolition. Like a spectre from the tomb,
in he came: the Trump of Doom.


There were strong performances, too, from Jennifer Moore, George Simmers, Frank McDonald, Philip Roe, Matt Quinn, Brian Allgar and Mike Morrison, all of whom deserve an honourable mention. Those printed below take £20 each; D.A. Prince nabs £30.

D.A. Prince/William McGonagall
Oh Autumn, you are one of the loveliest of
      seasons
And for this there are a multitude of reasons.
You bring us apples, and windfalls hardly bruised
      at all
Despite being associated with Eve, the Serpent
      and The Fall.
Then there are blackberries to accompany them
      for puddings and tarts
(At least until the Devil drags his tail across their
      fruiting parts,
Because there are all sorts of folk tales and such,
Even if nowadays we don’t believe them, much.)
The Harvest Festival hymns rise up to Heaven
With a wonderful noise as sung by Angels
      (eleven).
Everything is fruitful and there is great abundance
Although perhaps the marrows are a bit too much
      redundance.
The sun is golden and all the land is mellow
While the leaves turn an interesting shade of
      yellow.
Great poets have written about you and I count
      myself in their number.
Meanwhile I hope my Muse may never slumber.

Brian Murdoch/Chaucer
Whan that Septembre with his windy moanes
The somer’s heate hath driven from the bones,
And the autumnal rain turneth to sleet,
The while dampe-rot riseth beneathe the feet,
And blissful birdes, that whilom sang in trees,
Now flee to Afric shores before they freeze,
(For this they do the first autumnal day),
Then longen folke to go on holiday,
That they th’autumnal sorowes may shake off
And lose th’autumnal phlegm and lustie cough,
And to the sonne maken theit pilgrimage
That they avoid the season’s chilly rage.
Now al who may, from every shire’s end
To the distant Canarie-Islandes wend.
When Autumn stealeth comforte like a thefe,
So maun we hie ourselves to Tenerife.

Robert Schechter/Ogden Nash
For Keats this might have been a season of mists,
But for me it’s the time of year I’m most likely
      to slit my wrists.
The darkness, the cold blasts, the acorns
      desperately squirrelled,
Remind me of nothing less than the end of the
      living, breathing world.
I prefer my leaves to be green, not orange or
      yellow,
And my fruitfulness not quite as mellow.
Sometimes I think Keats, bless his soul, was a big
      fat liar
To say the songs of spring could be happily
      replaced by a gnat’s wailful choir
Or that there’s music in the way a full-grown
      lamb bleats.
We all know autumn sucks. Nice try, Keats.

Martin Parker/John Betjeman
Wet leaves lie deep along Wellington Avenue.
Bonfire smoke hangs in each skeleton tree.
Me with Myfanwy laughing and sliding,
Racing the dusk home for Nursery tea.

Cornering fast into Waterloo Crescent
I trip on a kerbstone and graze a bare knee,
A wound soon repaired by her lick on a hankie
And promise of honey and crumpets for tea.

Though sixty more autumns have withered
      behind me
I still feel the thrill in the child that was me
At the little pink hearts round the edge of her
      hankie,
The smell of wet leaves and her taste on my
      knee.

Alan Millard/Thomas Hardy
Autumn strikes with wind and rain,
With wind and rain,
The trampman’s scourge, the ploughman’s bane,
The curse of summer’s end
When dark clouds gather, grim and grey,
And storm birds wing across the bay
And tempests raging night and day
The hardiest branches rend.

Fleeing spring and summer past,
Ay, summer past,
I, to my autumn come at last,
Must on its byways tread,
No more beguiled by blind belief
But bowed by toil, beset with grief,
I, withering like a severed leaf,
View winter’s gloom ahead.

Jane Blanchard/Emily Dickinson
#1776
A leaf fell on my window sill
As I was sitting nigh —
I looked and looked at it until
Another caught my eye –

I could accept the how of such
But struggled with the why —
It seemed to be a bit too much
That one by one must die —
c.1884 — Amherst

Sylvia Fairley/Rudyard Kipling
If you can watch the days of summer waning
And keep your cool when all around is grey,
If you can hold your head up when it’s raining
And put your trusty barbecue away;
If you can bear the mists, the murky mornings,
While grabbing jumpers, coats and thermal socks,
If you can rise and shine, and heed the warnings
To queue up for your flu jab at the Doc’s.

If you can stand the begging trick-and-treaters,
See stores already filled with Christmas tat,
If you can turn the dial up on your heaters,
To raise the setting on the thermostat;
If you can rake the leaves and find a plumber
To clear them from the gutter — when it’s done
You’ll spurn your distant memories of summer
And stock up with some anti-freeze, my son!

Your next challenge is to submit an ode on a Grayson Perry urn. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 26 October.


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