Competitions 10A and 10B – results

Josephine Tey aka Gordon Daviot, really Elizabeth Macdonald

Josephine Tey aka Gordon Daviot, really Elizabeth Mackintosh

A new competitor called Koorali has spotted that ‘Once a candle in the midnight/ of my heart was briefly lit’, the lines that Humbert Wolfe, himself a poet, wants us to continue for fourteen more lines, is ‘a free translation from Heine’. Of course! (Actually, it’s a fair guess, as Wolfe, whose reputation in the 1920s was considerable, was known as Heine’s translator.) Nevertheless one competitor has written in, by the sound of it in a rage, to say that it will produce a lot of ‘cheap anguish’. Wolfe pleads guilty, but goes on to say that this made the good ones particularly special. Amongst the also-rans are Austin Priestman (a children’s poet) and T.E. Casson (a poet and critic) and also ‘Gordon Daviot’ – the pseudonym used by one Elizabeth Mackintosh for her historical plays, and for the novel she’d published the year before, although she is far better known under the pseudonym ‘Josephine Tey’, and for her mystery novels, especially for her last novel The Daughter Of Time (1951, published just before her death in 1952). H.C.M. (who may also be famous, we don’t know) and ‘A.Orta’ are also commended. But the winners are R.G. Brett, and there are two second prizes (Koorali and Biddy), so the editor has an extra half-guinea to stump up.

Once the candle in the midnight
   of my heart was briefly lit
when a winter-braving blackbird
   whispered out his exquisite

tune from last year half-remembered
    like the shadow of the clear
April-coloured song he lavished
   on his brown delighted dear.

So in spring my heart had chanted
    drunk with love as with new wine.
So the winter bird’s awaking
    woke a ghostly joy of mine.

Then the rain, and wind more bitter,
   quencht our little sinking spark;
mute upon his branch, the blackbird,
   in my heart the silent dark.

        R.J. BRETT

Once the candle in the midnight
   Of my heart was briefly lit;
Soon to be blown out, on purpose
   To compose a song on it.

Candle, midnight … Any poet
   Worth his guinea ought to see
How to do it – “frightened children
   Left in darkness, just like me.”

Then one works it up, The children
   Sing to drive away their fear;
And a grown-up man, so doing,
   Sets in every eye a tear.

There’s your song. Without the famous
   Heine-touch, a little flat?
Say: “My singing’s far from pleasant” –
   Who but I would think of that?


Once the candle in the midnight
   of my heart was briefly lit
So shame-making – so damned awkward
   isn’t it? or isn’t it?

“Darling am I going to be … be?
   “I’m afraid so – do you mind?
“Sweet lamb don’t be sentimental –
   “blow the light out – draw the blind.”

So fear-making, so quite loofy
   horrid – I have got a pain –
Dear I hate you – draw the blind up
   Curse – it’s pouring now with rain.

Howl? I will – that beastly candle
   guttered grease blobs on my heart –
shut up darling – get the car out
   Dawn or not – I want to start.


I haven’t altered anything in Biddy’s entry (except changing its to it’s) and I can’t work out if the compositor was having an off-day, or whether Biddy is being very eccentric in the way Heine sometimes was. The latter, I suspect. (This poem is re-printed in the anthology, ‘The Week-end Calendar’, with slightly different inverted commas, and the apostrophe still missing from it’s.) And in a curious way, these three poems do seem to have something more reckless about them that might have had J.C.Squire asking Wolfe some pointed questions.

Competition 10B, requiring a list of the seven deadly virtues, is one of those competitions that could go anywhere and a Mr. Cutting has listed as one of his – to Wolfe’s delight – “to insist on sounding the letter h when chatting to a bed-fellow”, which is what I would call leftfield and my daughter would call random, and which Wolfe insists is genius. Pibwob notes that a penny saved is a penny taxed, but the winners are two new names: Sannox (address, please!) and Cowper. Vaguely, Wolfe would like the prize-money split as easily as possible between the two, as Sannox’s meter has gone, Wolfe thinks, to pieces in the second verse. (I make that three-quarters of a guinea, and it’s a long time since I have done this, but is that not 15s 9d?)  Here they are:

                   (1) Safety First                                                         (2) Safety First   
                   (3) Safety First                                                         (4) Safety First   
                                                   (5) Safety First

When Grenville sailed from Flores and the Spaniards hove in sight
And the seamen clamoured, –  “Shall we fly, or, Master, shall we fight?”
He scanned the mighty galleons that held the crew accursed,
And cried in ringing accents, – “My comrades,
                                                                             Safety First!”

The Frenchmen lay off Aboukir, a great and mighty fleet;
Shoals and the coastal batteries made made the defence complete.
Did Nelson waver? Never! His signal doubts dispersed, –
“England expects each man this day to study
                                                                              Safety First!”

Effingham, Grenville, Raleigh, Drake – Admirals bold and free!
Rodney, Collingwood, Byron, Hawke – kings of the circling sea!
What was it steeled your mighty hearts, daring as few men durst?
Old England’s deathless watchword, – the clarion
                                                                             Safety First!”


Have I got this wrong or is this like the contemporary dread of Health and Safety?

Here is Biddy:

                            Though dead we speak, yet let our words be brief,
                            For of dead virtues, Silence is the chief,

For certain, grocers wil have a place in heaven:
Peter will open to an Austin Seven.

Bow down thy head and work – time flies,
And look not idly at the opal skies.

Though as a man, I’m bound to love all men,
I hate all foreigners as a citizen.

“To be quite frank with you,” thus I begin;
I ope my mouth and Rancour has his fling!


I bully in the regiment and school
Eccentric genius till he feels a fool!


Knowedge is useless that my class has banned,
We govern where we cannot understand!


“Leave me out, Deadly Virtue I am not!”
“It all depends on loyalty to what?”


I’ve thought about these two a lot, and sometimes I get the whiff of a gist. But that’s as far as it goes.

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