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Spectator competition winners: poems about the yellowhammer

13 October 2019

9:30 AM

13 October 2019

9:30 AM

For the latest competition you were invited to submit a poem about yellowhammers.

This sparrow-sized songbird has inspired poetry from John Clare’s lovely ‘The Yellowhammer’s Nest’ to Robert Burns’s unlovely ‘The Yellow, Yellow Yorlin’ (‘But I took her by the waist, an’ laid her down in haste/, For a’ her squakin’ an’ squalin…’ and you took up this challenge with gusto. Strong performers, in a top-notch and wide-ranging entry, included Bill Greenwell and David Shields. The winners, below, earn £25 each.

W.J. Webster
A certain subtle, govian fellow,
When asked what code name he preferred,
Chose ‘hammer’ as a striking word
Then made his point by adding ‘yellow’.
For, emberiza citrinella
Was a species badly hit
When Brussels’ CAP that didn’t fit
Sabotaged the hedgerow dweller:
The drive to get far bigger yields
Made acreage easier to combine
But helped to cause a sharp decline
In birds that needed hedged-in fields.
The yellowhammer flies alone
While some birds like to flock together:
It’s glad of its distinctive feather
And sings a song that’s all its own.

Alan Millard
‘A happy home of sunshine, flowers and streams,’
Wrote Clare of your abode, yet now we know
That in some grim, worst-case scenario
The poet’s words might be the stuff of dreams.
Though prey to snakes your helpless young might be
The future augurs even worse to fear
As fields are ploughed and hedgerows disappear
And meadows sink beneath a rising sea.
Yes, doom and gloom your happy home might mar,
Yet fear not yellowhammer! Cling to hope,
For one who calmly claims that he can cope
Whate’er befalls comes like a rising star
With yellow, straw-like hair and winsome charm
Who, being keen your needs to satisfy,
Would sooner choose in some damp ditch to die
Than fail to save your happy home from harm.

David Silverman
O hail, blithe emberiza citrinella!
Sing, golden-throated harbinger of doom
And teach us, in the sweetest a capella,
Your amber-lighted prophecies of gloom:
‘A little bit of bread and no French cheese
And shortages of blushful Hippocrene!
Quorn? Quinoa? Avocados? Prawns? No more!’
Each warbling warning wafting on the breeze
Is waved away: ‘Worst Case is what they mean!’
But the songbird’s singing like it knows the score.
O avian Cassandra! ‘Project Fear’
They call you and dismiss your baleful song,
As once, beneath the topless towers of Troy
All Ilium cried, the cataclysm near:
‘Enough experts — that girly swot is wrong!’
They first drive mad, whom then the Gods destroy.

Adrian Fry
There are scribbles on the shell of a
      yellowhammer’s egg
That our highest academics can’t decipher.
So there came a wonk from Whitehall who
      believed himself insightful
And to prove it claimed the pay of an adviser.

‘There are scribbles on the shell of a
      yellowhammer’s egg,’
He expounded, having caught the problem’s
‘Which are patterns of mere pigment and not fantasy or figment
Nor the smearings from the bird’s recent
Now, the scribbles on the shell of a
      yellowhammer’s egg,
It’s been claimed, are of a script that isn’t
I concede the story’s quaint, but the Devil’s work
      they ain’t,
For the truth behind them causes greater friction.
All these scribbles on the shell of a
      yellowhammer’s egg,
It eventuates, pertain to No Deal Brexit.
Though obscure and opaque, they list measures
      we must take
If there is No Deal or is and Boris wrecks it.

D.A. Prince
The yellowhammer’s small and shy,
it never wants to catch the eye
or let the curious-minded pry.
It tries to hide.

A ‘little bit of bread’ it sings
and ‘no cheese’; future sufferings
are coded in its flutterings
kept deep inside.

Endangered: that’s its status, so
it keeps its profile very low
afraid that people in the know
might, if they could,

reveal how vulnerable’s its state —
facing starvation, desperate.
The yellowhammer knows its fate
and it’s not good.

George Simmers
In the Parliament of Fowls, all the girly swotty
Are becoming hot and stressy as the politics gets
Who keeps on despite their clamour?
Plucky little Yellowhammer.

Who’s preparing for the worst, working till he’s fit
      to burst,
Making sure the country thrives when catastrophe
He’s far away from front-bench glamour,
Plucky little Yellowhammer.

Yellowhammer keeps on trying, helping Boris
Other birds may get all flappy, but he’s chirpy,
      blithe and happy —
And Jacob’s there to check his grammar!
Lucky little Yellowhammer!

Your next challenge is to submit a poem about Thomas Cook. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to by midday on 23 October.

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