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Spectator competition winners: spring villanelles

7 April 2019

9:45 AM

7 April 2019

9:45 AM

The latest challenge was to compose a spring villanelle. The villanelle – established in France in the 16th century by Jean Passerat with his poem about a lost turtledove – lends itself to themes of loss and time passing, and many of you chose to reflect on the bleaker side of spring. But this overall somewhat gloomy mood was more than offset by how well you rose to the form’s technical challenges.

Congratulations all round, but especially to unlucky losers Noah Heyl, R.M. Goddard, Philip Roe, and Jasper and Julia Griffin. The winners earn £30 each.

Alan Millard
A green haze hints that spring might soon appear,
The trees come into leaf, unhurried, slow,
Like Brexit, always coming, never here.

The sky grows blue, the grey begins to clear
And as the flowers’ colours start to show,
A green haze hints that spring might soon appear.

Too long we’ve suffered February’s drear
With March and April still in winter’s tow
Like Brexit, always coming, never here.

And where is May with all her promised cheer?
Her blossoms still stay tightly closed, although
A green haze hints that spring might soon appear.

It hovers close, a presence almost near,
A seed in frozen soil that’s loath to grow
Like Brexit, always coming, never here.

Just like an engine stuck in bottom gear
That inches forwards caught in winter’s snow,
A green haze hints that spring might soon appear
Like Brexit, always coming, never here.

Bill Greenwell
The sun unpeels. It’s time to mind the mop,
To sluice the floors, to spruce up every room.
Don’t let the season catch you on the hop:

You have the power of a turboprop,
With dust to shift, and carpets to exhume —
The sun unpeels. It’s time to mind. The mop

Investigates each nook. You dunk and slop,
Until forgotten windows are in bloom.
Don’t let the season catch you on the hop.


Your feather-duster — wield it like a crop.
It’s warm outside, though never ask for whom
The sun unpeels. It’s time to mind the mop,

To fill the vacuum speedily, chop-chop,
To shift the bristles quick, to groom the gloom.
Don’t let the season catch you on the hop:

Wipe off each table-top, and do not stop —
Catch every mote, and send it to its doom:
The sun unpeels, it’s time to. Mind the mop!
Don’t let the season catch you on the hop!

Frank McDonald
I am not fooled by offerings you bring.
Death’s concubine, deceit is in your smile.
Too old am I to celebrate a spring.

Floral displays and nestlings that take wing
Are mere distractions for a little while.
I am not fooled by offerings you bring.
Your verdure may invite a lark to sing;
What lies beyond the symphony is vile.
Too old am I to celebrate a spring.

Inside your merriment you hide a sting;
You sell regret in most majestic style.
I am not fooled by offerings you bring.

Let girls and boys attend your gathering;
You hurt old hearts with garnishing and guile.
Too old am I to celebrate a spring.

Winter is honest, showing everything
For what it is in death’s dark domicile.
I am not fooled by offerings you bring.
Too old am I to celebrate a spring.

Sylvia Fairley
Write no paean to primavera
For our future’s looking stark,
Brexit’s looming ever nearer.

Sing of springtime with Tom Lehrer,
Pigeons poisoned in the park,
But write no paean to primavera.

Clocks go forward, making clearer
That we’re fumbling in the dark,
As Brexit’s looming ever nearer.

As your household bill gets dearer
Scrimp and save and live on quark;
Write no paean to primavera.

Pray you’ll never need a carer,
There’ll be none when we embark
On Brexit — looming ever nearer.

As we face a brand new era
Or a briefly burning spark,
Write no paean to primavera,
Brexit’s looming ever nearer.

Brian Murdoch
Spring comes too early in our Autumn years,
The passage of the seasons is too fast,
Spring light illuminates our ageing fears.

So much neglected, so many arrears.
Time to amend it all is rushing past.
Spring comes too early in our Autumn years.

The brightness of the Spring sun burns and sears
Old eyes. Things undone stand in stark contrast.
Spring light illuminates our ageing fears.

How conscious are we of all our dead dears!
How long a shadow does the Spring sun cast!
Spring comes too early in our Autumn years.

How soon before the Autumn scythe appears?
Of course, we always knew things do not last.
Spring light illuminates our ageing fears.

What is the point of wasting any tears?
Can we not still enjoy Spring’s rich repast?
Spring comes too early in the Autumn years,
Spring light illuminates our ageing fears.

Your next challenge is to submit an elegy by a poet on another poet (please specify). Please email (wherever possible) entries of up to 16 lines to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 17 April.


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