Tag Archives: Matthew Arnold

The Spectator Competition: “Paradise Lost in four lines”

Milton Dictating to his Daughter, 1793, Henry Fuseli

Lucy Vickery runs a competition in the British weekly The Spectator–a truly venerable publication which recently reached its 10,000th weekly issue. Its politics are a bit too conservative for my taste, but the competition is in a class of its own (The New Statesman having dropped its similar competition a few years ago).

The most recent challenge was this: “In Competition No. 3163 you were invited to submit well-known poems encapsulated in four lines.” The gorgeous responses prompted Lucy Vickery to call the results “Paradise Lost in four lines”, after this entry by Jane Blanchard:

Satan found himself in hell —
Eve and Adam also fell —
Good gone bad got even worse —
Milton wrote too much blank verse —

(which exactly reflects my feelings, having had to waste too much of my A Level studies on Paradise Lost at the expense of more interesting poets such as John Donne and Matthew Arnold.)

My personal delight in The Spectator’s competitions is in seeing so many Potcake Poets there (in this case not just Jane Blanchard, but also Chris O’Carroll, Martin Parker, Jerome Betts, George Simmers and Brian Allgar), and in identifying more poets to keep an eye on for possible future chapbooks.

Anyway, if you want to see nice condensations of famous poems, have a look at that specific competition’s results. My favourite is Martin Parker’s take on e.e. cummings’ ‘may i feel said he‘:

foreplay
(more play)
errings, ummings
(and cummings)

Poem: “The Trendy”

In the future when your bioluminescent pet
Provides controllable lighting to your house from mine
In the Zero Light Pollution of night’s jet,
The Trendy flip on inefficient retro lights and pay their fine…

In the future when the media’s fight
Is over whether you should spray on clothes
Or blowing them on instead’s more right,
The Trendy grow them overnight from scalp to toes…

In the future when the Parking lots
Reserve the easiest, convenient spots
For Normals, called the Unenhanced (or Dead),
The Trendy disassemble their aircars instead,
Grow new wings to get home…

In the future when a thought
Will activate your airjets, wings and wheels
(Charged while you sat in sun)
To move a mile or two to friends or meals,
The Trendy paleolocomote, they “walk”,
Even relearn to “run”…

In the future when direct mind-linking 
Lets your band of friends share feeling, thinking,
“Anyone with telekinesis, raise my hand”
Becomes a daily battle for control of prey;
A Natural Leader manages subordinates –
Whole groups of Zombies which one man coordinates –
The Trendy dare to live offlinked, un-band,
As though alone as in the Olden Days…

In the future when Earth’s overcrowded
And you turn on AI, AR, AV
And instead of crowds and concrete, see a tree,
And follow a manipulated path, alone as Truman,
And mole-like tunnel, blind, controlled, enshrouded,
The Trendy leave the Earth for Mars and stars,
Wrapped in themselves and their AIs, ARs,
Sublimate selves into the posthuman,
Are never seen again alive…
But they see all. They are become the Hive.

“The Trendy” is yet another SF poem, this one first published in Bewildering Stories. The editor, Don Webb, commented that “The syntax in ‘Trendy’ is hair-raising at times, but I figure it goes with the humour. And I am fond of humour!” Very tolerant of him. But then, he’s Canadian, eh?

The formality of the poetry is also somewhat questionable, but for the most part it’s in iambics and rhymes. No different from some of Matthew Arnold’s work:

And the rest, a few,
Escape their prison, and depart
On the wide ocean of life anew.
There the freed prisoner, where’er his heart
Listeth, will sail;
Nor doth he know how there prevail,
Despotic on that sea,
Trade-winds which cross it from eternity.
Awhile he holds some false way, undebarred
By thwarting signs, and braves
The freshening wind and blackening waves.
And then the tempest strikes him…

From ‘A Summer Night’, which I learnt by heart in school and have been inspired by ever after. That’s my excuse, anyway.