Gerald Bullett’s request for a poem on a new planet has left him with five (out of ‘numerous’ entries) to pick from. And the five are – Valimus, Non Omnia, Seacape (again! and three of the original five letter-signatories!), James Hall and Pibwob. Yes, ‘Pibwob’. This bizarre pseudonym must have meant something, but you will Google it in vain: it’s a weird, nursery-sounding nom-de-plume. Nevertheless, James Hall and Pibwob are names to watch: they are both to be very regular winners.
Bullett agonises: he finds something objectionable – a line, a phrase, a conceit – in each of them. He adds, interestingly, that Valimus ‘is a poet’: I’m not sure if this means a published poet, or is simply a compliment. He particularly objects to the phrase ‘toddling mite’ in Pibwob’s poem (we don’t see it, so we’ll never know the context), and also thinks that ‘naturalize’ is a particularly ugly word. (I’m not very fond of zs myself – and it’s quite a surprise to see one in 1930.) In the end, he splits the two and a half guineas prize fund three ways, with Seacape – this is his third win on the trot – getting one, Non Omnia getting another, and James Hall the extra half a guinea. (James Hall has forgotten to send in his address. It is surprising how often this happens – and was still happening as recently as twenty years ago.)
Seacape is still writing as if the nineteenth century is not yet over, but here’s his joint first prize:
Thou new found wanderer in the starry skies,
How long hast thou paraded through the past?
How many million years escaped our eyes
To fall a victim to the lens at last,
Thy weary journeys to the end of time
All mathematically now forecast?
Is this discovery, then, so sublime
Which dooms however dull a thing that moves
To an eternity of pace and clime
In uneventful and predestined grooves?
Or should we rather view it with dismay,
Lest we ourselves and all our little loves,
And hopes and fears, should be as thou, one day,
And with predestination hedged about,
No laws but the astronomers’ obey?
Gerald Bullet singles out line 7 as ‘halting’, which it is, but line 6 seems even worse, rhythmically. Words like ‘clime’ also give me the heeby-jeebies: but I do like the way he’s handled the terza rima required.
Let’s see if Non Omnia can do better.
Within the viewless web of human thought (nope, this is very ropey!)
One more pale thought that flutters round the sun
And its few piteous secrets now is caught.
We chart its course ethereal, bravely run;
Its petty aberrations have descried –
Adventuring where no planet e’er had spun
It had in them perchance some little pride.
Alas! no wanderings can it ever boast:
One soldier more maintains his destined stride
Within the ranks of the celestial host.
Yet we may recognize a sentinel (I am plainly wrong about the z being new-fangled)
That holds our farthest, dimmest, loneliest post,
A foothold of the mind, intangible,
Wherein the muted spirit, dreaming hears
Infinite-echoing seas, as in a shell,
Reflected music of harmonious spheres.
As Bullett points out, this has some awkward ‘conceits’ – especially the image of the soldier in the celestial host. In some ways, I prefer the also-ran, James Hall, at least to start with:
Faint-shining pebble in Neptunian sea,
Remotely deep, remotely in the sway
Of that same eye of heaven that lighteth me
And hath revealed at length thy tardy day!
Hast thou heard any music, any song,
Or seen the glimmer of a far off ray
From fellow travellers who have journey’d long,
Holding a course by that great Polar Star
Which holds in safety that celestial throng
And points the milky breakers from afar?
– Or dost thou journey nearer to our shore
In narrowing circle – or beyond the bar
Sail outwards to be seen of us no more?
Competition IIIB is won by Pibwob, with second prize going to L.A.G.Strong. There is a long list of also-rans, including Seacape (naturally), Mrs G.P.Lea (winner of Competition IB), Yury, and, among others, two competitors who will become much more successful – Little Billee and H.C.M. It is clear that the daylight saving act of 1916 was not universally popular, not if the winning epigrams are anything to go by:
His hour was come. He fell asleep,
Cut down before his seed could flower.
We see the light he sowed, and reap
The harvest of his sunshine hour.
On Willett, who died a joke
Children of Dark, we thus requite
Those who would bless our way with Light.
Count him well-paid. He might have worn
No fool’s cap but a crown of thorn.