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Culture House Daily

Spectator competition winners: how to be happy

28 January 2019

2:00 PM

28 January 2019

2:00 PM

The latest challenge was to write a poem taking as your first line ‘Happy the man, and happy he alone’, which begins the much-loved eighth stanza of poet-translator Dryden’s rendition of Horace’s Ode 29 from Book III.

At a time of year when we traditionally take stock and have a futile stab at self-reinvention, you came up with prescriptions that were witty, smart and wide-ranging. The best appear below and earn their deserving authors £20 each.

Basil Ransome-Davies
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
Who dwells securely in his comfort zone,
Disdaining the temptations of success
While relishing the fruits of idleness.

Lightminded indolence preserves the soul
From slithering up ambition’s greasy pole
While kicking frantically at those beneath,
Who curse and fulminate through broken teeth.

Though workaholics and achievers boast
Of crushing rivals or who earned the most,
Where would their amour-propre be without
The telling contrast of the layabout?

Why be the aspirant who strives and strains,
And grows a peptic ulcer for his pains,
And at the end of day undoes his collar
Sighing, ‘another day, another dolour’

Frank McDonald
Happy the man, and happy he alone
Whose fingers haven’t touched a mobile phone;
Who hasn’t tweeted tweets or faced a book
Nor ever used a microwave to cook.
Happy indeed the human who can cope
Without a daily dose of TV soap
And happiest he who’s made it his decision
Never to know the curse of television.
But where lives such a man? What paradise
Protects his thoughts from every modern vice?
Does he in island solitude pursue
The simple things that Horace used to do?
And far from superstores and busy roads
Contents himself in reading Latin odes?

Alanna Blake
Happy the man and happy he alone
To whom the giants of the past have shown
Their wealth of wisdom and poetic art:
The world of classics, that essential chart
Which guides successors on the upward way
To bardic heights where still their works hold sway.
From Homer, Horace, Dante he now learns,
And treading in their footsteps partly earns
The vestige of a better power to claim
A budding right to hold a poet’s name
Than self-taught spouters of this modern stuff
Who never seem to hear us cry ‘Enough’.
Happy the man who loves the bards of old
And with them travels in the realms of gold.

Chris O’Carroll
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
Who does not cause his listeners to groan
With self-regarding narratives that drone
Of glory days and triumphs he has known,

Happy who knows the crops his hand has sown
And how to harvest once the fields have grown,
Who knows next year will fly as last year’s flown
And each day’s one day closer to the bone,

Happy who shuns the versified cornpone
That Dryden did not blush to call his own,
Happy who writes a poem without a tone
That puts it in the fortune-cookie zone,

Happy who either didn’t shine or shone
Some yesterday, and either way is prone
To shrug that what is past is carved in stone,
While right now is a short-term, high-rate loan.

Brian Allgar
Happy the man, and happy he alone
Who runs and rules a country as his own.
My wall with Mexico? Well, hey, no sweat;
I’ll shut the country down until I get
The funding that I want. Them democrats,
Them socialists, them migrant-loving rats —
Just let them try to stop me! They’re obscene.
I’m President, OK? That has to mean
I do just what I want. I’ve checked with Vlad,
And he agrees: ‘Democracy is bad.
The happy man is he who firmly rules,
Suppressing all dissent from feeble fools.
Do what you like. If one should disagree,
Just give him some polonium-flavoured tea.’

That’s great advice, and I’ll be even greater
When I declare myself US Dictator.

Philip Roe
Happy the man, and happy he alone
Whose wishes are fulfilled on every hand.
He reaps the crops that other men have sown
And charges rent because he owns the land.
The life of common men is filled with toil
In driving rain, in snow, in searing sun.
But when a common man has tilled the soil
He takes contentment from a job well done.
The happy man can nothing know of this.
His life is filled with toys that quickly bore.
He has his moments of ecstatic bliss.
They pass away and leave him wanting more.
The common man can satisfy his need.
The happy man cannot allay his greed.

Max Ross
Happy the man and happy he alone
Who knows what sex he is without a doubt;
Who makes deductions from the things he’s
When a mirror’s honest image points them out.
Happy is he who sees his finery
And feels no dark temptation to surrender
To thoughts of what is meant by binary
Nor angst about the transience of gender.
Happy the man who readily consents
When nature urges him to spend a penny
To boldly go through the door that’s headed
Confident he’ll meet no Joan or Jenny.
Such happiness our modern theories damn
Preferring instead: I think, and so I am.

Your next challenge is to supply a poem in dispraise of Valentine’s Day (16 line maximum). Please email entries to by midday on 6 February.

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