After much deliberation, delight in reading the entries, and thanks to the many who submitted, we are thrilled to announce the winner and runners up of the Chatterton250 Ode and Elegy Contest, held jointly by the K-SAA and the Thomas Chatterton Society as part of the celebration of the 250th anniversary of Chatterton’s death. While the commemorative event at Keats House, Hampstead has unfortunately been postponed, we are nevertheless excited to share these poems as a way of continuing the legacy of Chatterton’s life and writing as we wait for a time when we can meet in person again. As we approach the date of the anniversary—August 24th—we hope our readers will take a moment to mark the anniversary, whether by reading these and other poems to Chatterton, reading some of Chatterton’s own work, or perhaps—even though the contest is over—writing an elegy or ode of your own.
The first place winner, as selected by judges Prof. Nick Groom, Dr. Daniel Cook, Eleanor Bryan, and Carly Yingst, is “Ode to Chatterton,” by Amy Hill. The two runners up are Karin Murray-Bergquist’s “Elegy” and Alec Siantonas’s “Ode on Lost Renown.” The three poems are included below.
“Ode to Chatterton,” by Amy Hill
Youth is a gift not wasted on the young
In truth, it was by cruel poverty that you were undone.
What one muse bestowed so goodly and graciously,
Did daughters Nyx cut and draw back as bloodthirsty and rapaciously
As the encroaching dawn pursues the sweet dusk
When you took your last breath, like petals falling to dust.
Weaving and casting a perfect and enchanting spell
Your death did inspire so many to dwell
On the sweet flowering of your, short life.
And, pay homage with tears and aching sighs
Still now softly whispering heartfelt fears
Hushed tones and hope of whimsical romance for 250 years.
Have lasted on that precious page,
Enduring on through the raptures of age.
Your pretty perfect poesy lived and still survives
Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth and Coleridge did thrive
On the immense inspiration your lines did provide.
To think if you had lived, what heights you could have climbed
Now your spirit is immortalised in verse, never again confined
In a mere and measly twenty lines.
“Elegy,” by Karin Murray-Bergquist
Whatever words were yours, whatever wealth
Of beauty yet unknown
Now haunts, in silence robbed of life and health
An attic room alone —
I do not love the cruelty of that end,
Nor grudge your fame, bequeathed
By generations since, who strove to lend
A poet’s glory — wreathed
In deathly laurels, life still stubborn growing,
Despite the shadow’s reach —
But lend my hapless praise, through ages flowing
Across that ragged breach:
The grief engulfed by distance, blurred by years,
And envy, bittersweet —
That youth and striving genius, hope and tears
Could in one person meet.
“Ode On Lost Renown,” by Alec Siantonas
O sing to me a lay of lost renown
Melpomene, who art, muse, yet as young
As when bright Sappho her bold self did drown
And so became the lyric she had sung.
Sing well what leaflets crowned so dear a head,
Most melancholy minstrel, sing his name
Who sought among the poets his own place –
Gone to his death-bed
Before thy sisterhood secured his fame:
Sweet Chatterton, whom time could not deface.
Alas, the fairest flowret of the plain
In whose buds what incense might have been:
Still shining from the early April rain,
He faded ere the flush of May was seen.
Pure prodigy! So shall we now enjoy
The image of his ardour spent, and is
Not poetry made perfect in his death?
No: he died a boy.
For lost renown I weep, that would be his
Had he but loved and sung another breath.