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"Woodward see the birds now flying
Up the hill and back to home,
To the greenwood and the bracken,
Where the woodman likes to roam. . . ."

That, believe it or not, was a poem written last night by the mighty Independent computer.

The thing was, I had been reading Andrew Motion's poem on England's World Cup triumph, and I had thought, frankly, that it could be improved on, on the grounds that it wasn't very good. If you didn't see it, here are the first five lines:


O Johnny the power of your boot
And the accurate heart-stopping route
Of your goal as it ghosts
Through Australian posts
Is a triumph we gladly salute. . .

Motion said that he took so long to write the poem because he couldn't think of a rhyme for "Wilkinson". That's as may be. What is more surprising is that it seems he couldn't think of any other verse form except the limerick. . .

Well, having fed our computer a match report, plus samples of other poet laureates, and having then asked it to come up with a new verse, I am pleased to report it took only five seconds to write the opening snatch. Mark you, I couldn't quite see why the above sample could be called rugby verse, till I suddenly realised that it was full of names of players in the squad. Woodman, Back, Hill, Bracken, etc. Very clever! But not very much about rugby.

So I asked it to try again. There was a bit of buzzing and electronic belching, then this appeared:


WORLD CUP FINAL by John Betjeman

In ten million English households
Hear the shouts as Jonny scores!
See them rise and spill their beer
As through the posts the oval soars!

Here in England it's still breakfast,
Down in Oz it's nearly tea.
But for just a nano-second
Time has frozen on TV.

Then the commentator shrieks out
And the flags begin to wave
Until old St George of England
Must be turning in his grave.

From the kitchen enters mother
Carrying steaming mugs of tea.
"What's the matter?" she inquires.
"Has there been an injury?"

"Mother! We have beat the Aussies!
Got them where it hurts the most!"
"Well, that's nice, dear. Who's for coffee?
Or another slice of toast?"

There was a pause, then before I could stop it, this fragment emerged:


JOHNNY PREPARES TO KICK by Ted Hughes

Like a hawk poised, shoulders hunched,
Ready to squeeze the blood from the ball,
The man eyes the ball, then eyes the post,
Then does not move. His hands like greedy talons . . .

‘Yes, yes,’ I said impatiently. ‘Enough of that. But what about that rhyme for Wilkinson?’

There was another slight pause, then this came out:


As the Australian storm clouds part,
See the glowing silken sun
Warming up the turf for Johnny,
For our golden Wilkinson . . .

I turned it off then. There is only so much computer verse a chap can take.

 


The Independent Mar 16 04