This fiendishly difficult challenge, to submit a sonnet with the name of a Shakespearean character hidden in each line, pulled in a gratifyingly bumper haul of entries – from old hands and newcomers alike. The odd one or two described it as ‘fun’, but many were considerably less keen – C. Paul Evans, for example: ‘The mother of all horrors, what a comp,/ A theme to turn my ashy locks to dust!…’
It dawned on me, as I read your sonnets, that there were different ways of interpreting the brief. Martin Broomfield took a cryptic approach; others an anagrammatic one. The ambiguity was my fault, and I gave equal consideration to all.
While the shoehorning in of names occasionally led to some stilted lines, there were bursts of remarkable fluency too. In an entry full of witty touches and inventive flourishes, commendations go to David Silverman, Chris O’Carroll, Jan Snook and Julia Griffin; a prize of £20 belongs to each of those printed below.
In Machu Picchu and at other sites
We globetrotted, our future bright and clear,
Our love synonymous with life’s delights,
Devoid of anger, jealousy and fear.
No hurt could scar us, we were young and free.
Our youthful lust, white-hot, spurred our desire
Till smothered one foul night in Italy
That proved her a dissembler, an ace liar.
How artful were her wiles, her double-deal.
Though I thought her an angel on this earth,
Her vows of love were sham, letting me feel
A dupe cascading tears of bitter mirth.
So now our paths diverge, spider and fly;
In Rome our shameless fake romance will die.
We marched along the road, past an old mill,
Through a deserted hamlet, to the Line.
Now bleary-eyed, I looked at my pal Bill:
‘He can’t take any more.’ ‘No, he’ll be fine’,
Said Jack, ‘he only needs’ (sly wink) ‘a wench.
I tried that brothel: Lord, that mademoiselle=
Made me forget the lice-infested trench’,
(He belched) ‘A bit of heaven in this hell.
Don’t look like that; I’m only human, mate’.
‘I’d just as soon be snug alone in bed’,
Said Bill. We marched in silence to our fate
At no great speed, half-sleepy and half-dead.
Then, as dawn quickly overtook the dark,
Cascades of music woke us, from a lark.
My plots are crafted, clever and uncanny;
Witchcraft intrudes; demon and sprite appear.
Violent fate comes speedily to many
When men plot hell on earth and devils cheer.
I set my scenes in Rome or other towns;
Daughters are gannets, greedy for a prize.
The lucky prosper only as poor clowns
And foolish thanes heed mad ambition’s lies.
When challenges are made then tragedy
Will follow, making learned men despair.
No one’s inviolate; in adversity
Bad and good fellows taste foul fortune’s fare.
Sometimes for sport I alter man and miss
And they in borrowed garments court and kiss.
Perhaps a typo in some dog-eared book;
scant onionskin that saves a cherished hand;
the fragile glamour in the smell and look
of wildflowers; earnest orators’ unplanned
assertions; strange locution in a rushed,
ambivalent, inexpert turn of phrase
voiced in a midnight Ouija question, hushed,
reheard verbatim on ensuing days;
anonymous graffiti: there’s no squelching
such subtle art, and when we chance to hear
some boor who’s cheered us hitherto by belching
break out as an impromptu balladeer,
and find no supple beauty in his song
that feeling may be genuinely wrong.
Poor Portia, such glum arias she sings,
Sad as a blue tit ushering forth a song
As doleful as the bell’s knell sorrow rings
Whilst I with ample fervour for her long,
Yet must in dark mould yearn to win her heart
When neither gods nor folk my suffering see
Or grant me kind rapport ere I depart
From one who might love llamas more than me!
I, keen as mustard, see delight in one
With whom I’d prosper — offer her my hand,
Rich ardour on her lavish and, when done,
Elope to Rome or any far off land,
And there, with subtle wisdom, quell despair
And fondly stroke the shy locks of her hair.
Please, no more news. True, fake, or pseudo/sham,
let’s take a short break from mock-heroic scenes,
from shallow arguments and knife-edge bets,
who’s on the verges (and the TV screens)=
of bringing down the country. Pistol-whipped
or smothered by reports or drowned in ink,
let MPs hectoring tones, each shabby script,
be snugly silenced, leaving space to think
how, honest or not, we have too much of news,
and how its weasel ways just violate
the place of those with the sincerest views,
scoring graffiti on the ship of state.
The bottom line: we all deserve some cheer.
Enough of news. I hope I’ve made this clear.
If this be ham, let beef be on my plate,
yet both beat rice, methinks, to dine upon.
You offer port? I Answer, thank you mate.
Ha! Leave the bottle. Soon it will be gone.
A fine rosé will satisfy my nose.
This pepper’s hot! Hello, my spicy friend!
I don’t like ox for Dinner, heaven knows.
Is a bell a sign this meal has reached its end?
I feel a chill. Escort me to my door.
I’ll ask the ouija questions of the dead.
Relaxing, I’ll shed garments to the floor
and clear the fog of drinking from my head,
but since I’m rather shy, lock tight the latch.
O liver! How I fear you’ve met your match!
Your next challenge is to supply an elegy on a piece of obsolete technology. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 2 January. (The deadline of 14 December that appeared in the print edition has been extended.)