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Spectator competition winners: ‘Bloody men are like bloody rockets’: famous poets on the Apollo 11 moon landing

20 October 2019

9:30 AM

20 October 2019

9:30 AM

For the latest competition you were invited to step into the shoes of well-known poets and give their reflections on the Apollo 11 moon landing, 50 years on.

Cath Nichols’s enjoyable entry looked back on the lot of the Apollo wives through Wendy Cope’s acerbic eye. Nick MacKinnon was also an accomplished Cope impersonator:

Bloody men are like bloody rockets,
you wait nearly five billion years
and as soon as one feels up your craters
another Apollo appears…

Rufus Rutherford, channelling Basho, submitted a charming haiku. And Robert Schechter, as Ogden Nash, also kept it brief:

To the marvellous event that happened fifty
       years ago I dedicate this ode.
The first man on the moon, you say? That was
       pretty good, but what I had in mind was
             Abbey Road.

The brightest stars this week are printed below and win £25 each.

W.J. Webster/Alexander Pope
God’s fiat let there be two kinds of light,
One bringing day, the other soft’ning night.
The gods of myth then made these roles their own,
The sun as male, the moon as female shown.
Celestially remote, they reigned divine,
Their pow’rs bewitching, awesome or benign.
But lo! this landing brought them both to ground,
Their majesty dispelled, their heads uncrowned.
Ex deo machina, Apollo came
To yield his fiery chariot — and his name;
Selene, ever seen demurely fair,
Had all her desert dust and rock laid bare.
The heavens’ mysteries all stand revealed
When human probing leaves no secret sealed.
Such ventures are of negligible worth:
Man’s proper sphere of study is the Earth.


Alan Millard/John Betjeman
Ring out the mighty bells of Bow
And all the streets with flags festoon
For, half a century ago,
Apollo landed on the moon.
I often dream that we were there
One giant leap from all mankind,
With earth-glow lighting up your hair
And bombed-out Slough left far behind.
I’d see you looking quite divine,
My burnished, strong-limbed, fearless love,
You, in your space suit, I in mine
Beneath the twinkling stars above;
Let politicians rant and rail
For mad and sad they’ll always be
While we in gay abandon sail
The calm Sea of Tranquillity.

Basil Ransome-Davies/Rudyard Kipling
The press called it the Space Race, like it was a
       sportin’ test,
A runnin’ competition with the East against the
       West.
The lunar teams were all prepared, the tactics well
       re’earsed,
And people watched in wonderment to see ’oo’d
       get there first.

It was all mixed up with politics, and that’s a dirty
       game,
But pioneering moonshots call for ’eroes all the
       same,
The kind that leaves the earth be’ind and flies in
       outer space
To beat the opposition and to save a nation’s face.

The bit o’ rock they landed on was called
       Tranquillity,
A berth that’s not an ’aven in a sea that’s not a sea.
There was no rules for doin’ what was never done
       before,
But Faith and Science shook ’ands to return a
       winning score.

All that is ’alf a century back, but what about
       today?
Tranquillity just ain’t the word to name the state
       o’ play.
Two men became immortal with their two hours
       on the moon,
But the way the world is going we shan’t see such
       ’eroes soon.

Sylvia Fairley/Lewis Carroll
’Twas lift-off and the lunic team
Did whirl and whizzle into space
To vitalise their squambic scheme
And gumble in the moonish race.

To buzz and kneel by lunar seas
There came a bold and plambic plan
To prove the moon’s not made of cheese,
Then take a strantic step for man.

Now fifty flumbish years have passed,
With countless ramblous re-enactions
Of star-ish stripes tied to a mast,
With daring deeds and vortive actions.

And oh, my beamish boy, this rhyme
With joy outgrabes that great endeavour:
Though astronauts will fade in time
The show goes on and on forever.

D.A. Prince/W.H. Auden
As man walked out that that morning,
Walking upon the Moon,
The crowds glued to their tellies
Were watchers in a swoon.

As mankind placed his footstep
Where never man had trod
Some lovers sighed their pledges
While thinkers pondered God.

But fifty years run quickly
Like water through a sieve;
The Moon cannot instruct you
Nor tell you how to live.

Or how Earth’s time is fleeting;
So small, so blue, soon gone,
And mankind kills his birthright
While Time will still run on.

Your next challenge is to submit a poem that begins ‘By Waterloo station I sat down and …’. Email entries of up to 16 lines to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 30 October.


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