Sonnet on Cricket – The Batsman’s Hope

For those of a cricketing disposition waiting for the start of the Ashes, here is a reprise of my Sonnet on Cricket:

Sonnet on Cricket: The Batsman’s Hope
(Written for James Breen)

It seems a game of hard and bitter loss:
Dismissed upon a sudden slip, expelled
When all about is set to tempt and snare,
And enemies are ready to devour.
Our time upon the crease is fragile as
This life. No glory of a century gained
Will save us, but that we flail at some forbidden fruit,
Well pitched, and from the field take
Our solitary way. But oh, this game
Is brother contest of the English earth,
Which as it raises up the fallen flowers
Forgiven as they tried the summer sky,
So cricket’s rhythms overtrump our loss:
Over to over abides; and drawn stumps
At autumn’s end betoken not a close,
But play redeemed in fullness of the spring.


Westminster School Election Dinner – the home of new Latin poetry

Westminster School is one of the last places in the country to preserve many of the customs from the time when Latin was the lingua franca of English education. Prayers are still said in Latin every Wednesday, Queen’s Scholars are admitted to the foundation in a Latin ceremony, and the tradition of performing Latin comedies by Terence of Plautus is still sporadically maintained. One of the most extraordinary and creative survivals is that of the annual Election Dinner, which was held last night.

Westminster is part of the same foundation as Christ Church Oxford and Trinity College Cambridge. Traditionally, there would be an annual visitation from the heads of these colleges to Westminster to choose scholars to proceed to these institutions, a process known as the Election. After the academic formalities of the Election, the visitors from Oxford and Cambridge would be given a grand feast – the Election Dinner – at which they would be entertained not by speeches Latin and Greek Epigrams as well as songs. The writing and improvisation of Latin and Greek epigrams formed a major part of the Classical education of the Renaissance, and proficiency in this field was considered a sine qua non for anyone aspiring to higher study.

Although the Election itself ceased at the beginning of the 20th century, the custom of the Election Dinner has been maintained; it reaches back, only interrupted by the two World Wars, to the Elizabethan refoundation of the School in 1560. The tradition of writing new Latin epigrams is also continued; the Election Dinner is perhaps the leading public forum for new Latin poetry anywhere in England, and perhaps the world. Departing members of staff are honoured with three verses of Horatian-style alcaics if they served more than seven years, and are included in an elegiac medley if they were at the school for less than that time. Current affairs are then satirised in elegiac couplets after the style of Martial, and then translated into English epigrams or songs.

One object of the epigram is to pun an English phrase into the Latin like a cryptic crossword readthrough, so that both the Latin substance and the English pun both reflect the matter in hand. One of my own contributions to the evening was this epigram on the recent horsemeat scandal, rendered into English by a song to the tune of The Roast Beef of Old England

Latin epigram

si findas, hospes, iam cultro suavia crusta,

   invenias Phrygium, nobile munus, equum.


Reading through one finds the pun – “Findus horse pies, yum”

Translation: If you were now, guest, to cut open the tasty pies with your knife, you would find – an excellent gift – a Trojan Horse.


English song (to the tune of The Roast Beef of Old England…)

When mighty roast beef was the Englishman’s food,

Our meatballs were honest, our burgers were true,

But now in lasagne you’ll find Shergar stewed…

And oh, the roast beef of old England

Is now for the most part horse.


When Findus and Asda have their wicked way,

We’ll feast not on fillet, but dapple and grey,

And in Bolognese a knackered old bay…

And oh, the roast beef of old England

Is now for the most part horse.


And next year at Aintree around Becher’s Brook

Instead of the punters a covey of cooks

Boiling the gee-gees up into French soup…

And oh, the roast beef of old England

Is now for the most part horse.