The George Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition
1991 Crabbe Memorial Competition – First Prize
Adjudicators: Jon Silkin, William Radice
The last leaves drift to settle on the field,
I walk the sodden orchard melancholy.
High in the branches of an ancient pear
A papery, pale, lantern shape’s revealed –
A wasps’ nest, visible now twigs are bare:
The old queen’s palace and abandoned city.
Ah! I remember her, October Queen,
Vespula Regina, on my window sill
In brightest enamels scintillating,
Her great eyes viewed the dappled scene
Squinting. She lingered, hesitating,
The flew into my shadowy house,
“Oh! No!”, I cried, “Not here, not in my room!”
And relented seeing her alight
Urgent, yet weak with overwhelming sleep.
She sought instinctively the curtain gloom,
Winter’s appointed moveless months to keep.
I, her cohabitant, watched her settle down.
She drifted into lassitude, pupa-like peace,
No virgin, she, but wed and widowed,
Next summer’s myriad children in her womb
Awaiting their eventual release.
But now she slept as if within her tomb
Side-folded wings, immured in shade.
I went a-visiting and found her gone –
My window stood wide open to the sun.
Some secret punctual bell had awakened her
To this long, waited gentle halcyon
But, after idle months, nothing must deter
Her summer stint of unremitting toil.
I never saw her palace till today.
Marvellously made of masticated wood
Where founding a city, populating it,
She in her self-built prison had to stay
Until the Autumn notice came to quit
And Vespula Queen was first among the dead.
The old Queen’s reign was ended, she lay dead,
Her city quite abandoned and her people slain
Save for the cherished young princesses
Et free to wed but swiftly widowed
Before they too slept in their dim recesses
Till Summer’s urgent bell awakened them.
Queen Vespula has vanished. Summers pass
Fleeting as Autumn shadows on the grass
But hung upon the cloudy firmament
The papery palace is her Monument.
Copyright © Joyce I Watson 1991