Thank you to everyone who entered The Canterbury Tales Writing Competition 2022/23: Promises, promises!
We had so many wonderful entries this year and want to say a huge thank you to everyone who entered. We hope that you enjoyed writing your poems and stories as much as we enjoyed reading them.
Here are the winners:
5-10 Winners 2023
By Amber age 10
The Prince’s Tramp
Long e’yre the way to London
A tramp on the roadside sat
And watched the wise-men go by
He rusted in the cheek,brilliant in the eye,
Did settle himself to question of them:
“Where hence you go?
Wither hence you come?”
And all answered as wise men did,
“To and from the prince, dear traveler,”
The tramp requested the lead
And slow his step, slow his companions’ tread
Till a bugle call rang sharp and clear
Muddied did boot-soles hasten along
Thence came past a brilliant carriage,
Drawn by horse and stationed with man,
The bejeweled silk of evening lace
And out from the window peered dark and fair
A form; a form!
The prince – for it was he – did ask,
“Did you keep your word
Oh knightly Gallivant?”
To his royal eyes a flame emerged betwixt
Gallivant’s pearly greys
He was a tramp
And not a knight
And many a purse had he purloined
His word! His word!
How broken as his sword-
The metal must be lying back
In some field far away
Its hilt must be broken
And its metal easy to sway
Had he not sworn his word,
his word and sword?
No he was not Gallivant any-more,
For straggly hair and unruly beard did overtake his manly form
Which blackened hand had torn a crest from his chest
And which traitorous legs had led him from duty’s horn
That man he was now
Who fled from a battlefield million a mile away
Oh woeful pledge, oh woeful day,
When he hath given his blade to the prince!
So thus the tramp turned in terror
Until his magpie sense fluttered to see a glint of the prince’s brooch
and snatched it from his chest
Fled he, the thief,
The betrayer of his word,
The breaker of a promise
Which ranked higher than a lord
And as the prince rolled on towards the fair lights of London
The wise men with their apprentice
Wise as wise men were
They did not pursue Gallivant, nay!
Pursued the apprentice of the prince,
“Do you not wish to have such a brooch back?”
For brooch that was
Brooch in violet crystal dome
“No, dear boy,”
Said thus the prince,
“He was my knight and now my Tramp,
So ere we honor our mates at hand
Were he brave he would have stood for his turn
But today, fine and calloused still
No upheaval shall pass under my eye,”
So did the prince sayeth as he rode to London
Tramp behind him in the green fields
Glinting brooch in greedy hand
“My payment is thus-“
Did he utter upon the prince’s leave,
“No jewel from The Promised Land,
But this measly recompense;
My sentence at my stand
With its evil eye
Doth turn my innards into sand,”
He and the brooch together did ramble
From the fair lights of London.
By Alba age 9
Hunger gnawed at my stomach, as I remembered the promise I had made to my dying mother. “ I will find him, Mother, I promise.” I wrapped my thin shawl tighter around me, trying to block out the North wind as the same thought was repeated in my mind. He must have gone to the house on the hill. I had heard rumours that there were riches in that house. Maybe my brother had heard the rumours too and tried to get riches to get medicine for Mother before she died. I stared up the hill and at the giant mansion which lay at the top. Then I started to climb the hillside.
Soon I was there. In the dying light I saw the grey stone house rise out of a bed of brambles. The stone felt cold and clammy to the touch and the windows stared back at me. Despite the undergrowth, no animals crawled near it and no birds flew over it. I pushed through the lattice of branches which were guarding the entrance.
The door creaked open and my eyes widened in surprise. Instead of the cobweb shrouded corridor I had expected, there was a room full of rare butterfly species pinned in display cases, perfectly in place. I decided to go into the next room, thinking maybe the treasure could be in there. The walls were lined with perfectly preserved stuffed animals. I scanned the room for any riches but unfortunately found none. The house seemed to belong to a collector rather than a rich person.
Then I stepped into the third room. The walls were embroidered with portraits of people, all frozen in a silent scream. One painting looked like a picture of my brother and next to it stood an empty frame. There was one empty frame. Gasping, I realised something. The house didn’t just collect animals, it collected people too. I ran to the door and tried to open it but it was locked. It was too late. My face started to appear in the empty picture frame.
By Jessamie age 9
The Sailors’ tales
The seas wrapped themselves around the ship, as if the waves were squid tentacles and the boat was just a titbit tossed onto the ocean.
“Get below Sarah!” shouted the captain.
“You too Jack, there’s nothing more to be done.” she cried.
“I’m the reason the sea’s angry, Sarah.” yelled Captain Jack above the storm. “There’s only one way to quell the wrath. I must repay the sea…Good bye my love!”
“What did you do?” she called against the wind.
But Jack jumped into the furious waves: “I broke my promiiiiiise!” and he disappeared.
Sarah staggered below and told the crew that the Captain was gone.
Here follows the stories they told of the captain’s promise as they waited out the storm.
The Cook’s tale – A fish’s tail
I know what his promise was…a story that’s more than a little fishy, ho ho! Captain Jack told me how he used to work on the fishing boats as a boy and every night he’d come home, after a long day, and wait for his fishwife mother as she gutted the fish he’d caught for tea.
Once, on a full moon, an old mackerel spoke to him and said:
‘One day the seas will turn and the boats will rock
If mankind mend not their ways and their fishing stop’
That day Jack swore an oath never to hurt a single fish, ever again in his life, no matter the cost. No matter how hungry, he would spare the life of fishes.
I saw him munching on one of my fine salty herring this very morning! Poseidon saw him too and made the waves rough on account of his big mistake.
Cabin-boy Billy’s tale – A scurvy sea-dog’s tail
No, no that’s not it! How do you think a poor fisher-boy came to be a Captain? Captain Jack ran away to sea, and back then he was no more than a cabin-boy, like me. Until one day he met the Sea-Witch and she granted that scurvy sea-dog one wish. That’s when he struck the bargain that led to his promotion, despite the terrible price he knew he would have to pay – doomed to lose every crew he ever had to the jaws of a storm. But he couldn’t bear to watch us drown…not us!
Sarah’s tale – A mermaid’s tail
Well, Jack Scott had said he would never love another woman as much as he loved her. But, he broke his promise to that mermaid when he set his heart on me. Everyday I saw it in his eyes and wondered why he never said ‘I love you’. Then this morning he told me he loved me, loved me more than any other, loved me more even than the sea. The heart-broken mermaid called Poseidon and from their rightful fury began the storm.
Then Sarah hid her face in her hands and wept as the storm died away…
By WeiNing age 9
Keeping My Promise
It was a warm summer’s afternoon, and the shop was flooded with customers going in and out. I stood at the door, hearing the bells ring. In a green and black tunic, Daddy squatted down, faced me and whispered, “Stay here, Max. I’ll be back soon. I promise.” I saw tears lingering in his eyes as he stroked me.
I nodded, “I’ll wait for you, Daddy.” Then, he turned to the door and walked out, jingling the bells.
“I’ve never seen him wearing that uniform, so why is he wearing it today?” I wondered what was going on, and why he was leaving me. As I watched Daddy slowly disappearing from my sight, I whimpered and a wave of sorrowness washed over me.
Ever since I was small, people had taken one look at me and decided that I belonged in the trash can. I was abandoned near a filthy factory, flies flying all around me. But one day, Daddy came along, fed me, gave me shelter and most importantly, a home. Everyday, his warmth and love for me was indescribable. Now we were like two peas in a pod as we were the only family each other had. He meant the world to me, and I had never left his side before—until now.
I couldn’t remember how long I had been here. Gazing outside wistfully, the leaves had turned from green to gold. Bored, I started to daydream, thinking that Daddy would suddenly appear, hugging me and walking me back home. But there wasn’t a trace of him. “Has something happened to him?” A tiny voice in my mind whispered. I shuddered, tears forming in my eyes, “No! Daddy must come back for me. He will. Of all the promises he made, he has never broken one.”
Soon, snow fell into heaps outside, turning the world white. Feeling depressed, I started to bark fretfully, annoying the shop owner so much that she blamed me for being a nuisance. She kicked me out, leaving me alone on the streets. My mind flashed back to when I was small. I felt helpless. Few people attempted to adopt me, but I refused. Daddy was the one whom I wanted to go home with, so I stayed right in front of the shop, trying to keep my promise.
After what felt like eternity passed, the weather turned bitterly cold. I started to suffer despite my thick fur, growing weak and weary.
The wind was howling, covering everything in snow, including me. Lying outside the shop, I was slowly slipping away. I closed my eyes and whispered, “I’m sorry, Daddy. I think I could not keep my promise…”
But as my body went limp, I felt a familiar, warm presence. It was Daddy!
“Max,” He extended his arm to me. “Come, let’s go home.”
Feeling weightless, my paw reached out to Daddy. Together, with smiles plastered on our faces, we walked towards the pathway formed of bright light ahead of us, leading us home.
11-14 Winners 2023
By May age 14
There’s a path through the trees
A clearing if you walk the right steps
Steps burnt into my skin (left, right, straight on)
A path I could walk if the world vanished
There’s a clearing somewhere
(I say somewhere, I know the exact spot)
A spot by a rock with perfect rocks to skim
If the water flows slow then sometimes we swim
(We swam) and we talked and we laughed and we loved
When we were too young to love, When I struggled with arithmetic
The sum of us still seemed to fit, as perfect as it should
Should have, past tense, past summers, past picnics
Sixteen, cusp of everything, picnics in this wood
Sixteen, up ahead, all the life, all the hours
We promised to love each other forever
I promised each week I’d bring you flowers,
Wisteria, your favorite, I promised, God I felt so brave
Sixteen, cusp of everything, I never thought I’d put wisteria gently on your grave
By Lula age 12
“We’re taking you to the showers!” the soldier said.
He was a young one, his cheeks a rosy red,
But he was still to blame –
He took everything from them, even their names.
The second soldier was extremely tall,
He was the one who led the roll call.
The third one had a golden tooth –
He was the one who beat up Ruth.
The fourth always held a cigar –
It was he who took Ester away from her Pa.
The fifth had cabbagey ears that stuck out
He very much liked to scream and shout.
The sixth had a dog with a vicious bark
His heart was cold and his eyes were dark.
They led the women to a building block,
Then all the doors were bolted, locked.
Stripped from her rags,
Ester started to flag
Her legs felt unstable
To calm her, she recalled Chaucer’s fables.
Entering the shower room, she thought of the Wife of Bath,
But as they handed out soap, the soldiers laughed.
“We’re taking you to the showers!” they had said.
As the gas was released, Ester stared at the sea of shaved heads.
She watched them dying with her sad gray eyes
And as more collapsed, she let out a sigh.
“We’re taking you to the showers!” the soldiers had said –
But there Ester lay, poisoned and dead.
By Hope age 12
The Fate of the Man of Arms.
In Ireland once, there was a man
Who was the strongest in his clan.
He was valiant (and so I’m told)
Very brave, and very bold
When there was a fight, he would begin
To hatch a plan that was sure to win.
He had never met his match
He left all fights without a scratch.
Now the King had met that very night
An enemy army he couldn’t fight.
The King knew the hero we speak about,
And absolutely had no doubt
That once he had made his advance
The enemy didn’t stand a chance.
He called upon the man for aid
And bade him bring his finest blade.
The man began to panic and bawl
He could not fight these men at all!
The enemy were too extensive
He sat awhile feeling pensive.
He needed help, he needed aid
The volunteer would be paid.
He mounted and rode his steed
Thinking only of his need.
He rode towards the other clans
Racking his brains for battle plans.
He cried “I, to the volunteer, will give
Money enough for him to live.
5000 pounds, maybe more,
If you will help me win this war.”
A man of valour came to call
Strong and ready for the brawl.
The man who bred the battle hounds,
Was tempted by the 5000 pounds.
The day of the battle arrived at last,
And the enemy arrived with armies vast.
They surveyed the men with disdainful grin,
With no regard, for the courage within.
The hunting hounds stood all in their posts
They came by the thousands in hungry hosts.
They advanced in great numbers, yellow teeth bared
They charged upon the enemy, not a single one spared.
All of them were battered, all of them fell.
The men and the hounds, had fought them well
The hounds-man came the very next day
To come and claim his promised pay.
The man stared in shock, wide-eyed
Then ran towards his father and cried
“Help me! He’ll throw me to the hounds!
I haven’t got five thousand pounds!”
His father replied, “Son this sin I’ll forgive,
But you promised him what you could not give!
I forgive, but he might not!
I can’t say you haven’t had your lot.”
Thus ended the man, in a troubled heap
For making a promise he couldn’t keep.
Moral: Don’t make a promise you know you cannot keep.
By Kodia age 11
Can you hear that?
It’s the melodious music that only one source can provide:
From the scorching savannah
Where animals like lions and tigers
Are praised for their valour.
To the frosty Arctic snow
Where winds both gentle and harsh blow.
From the winter blues
To the new spring,
Where buds flourish abloom.
In the early morning the sun’s mellow rays gently caress my face
Peeking through the blinds
And in the night,
The iridescent moonlight glides along the surface of the scenery outside,
Attracting my eyes.
When I look all around me,
I stop and smile;
The tall trees are watchguards,
The ripe berry bushes are a crafty disguise
The vibrant flowers wave at me,
And a warm, fuzzy feeling blossoms inside of me.
What beautiful nature,
As fine as can be!
I look up into the sky:
As if a blotch of ink had spilled onto a blank canvas,
The sky darkens, casting gloom upon me.
Thunder strikes, lighting up the sky.
I look to my right, where the ocean is,
And tears threaten to spill from my eyes:
As if the see was a bin,
Bits of plastic, large and small,
Fill the once blue ocean
To the brim.
I watch as a turtle,
Imprisoned by a plastic bag
Struggle to move,
As if every step was a hurdle.
The temperature rises abruptly,
Due to the fossil fuels like coal and oil,
And I can’t help but recoil
At the horror of it all.
What happened to the promises?
“We’ll change the earth!”
They all said
But look now..
Once radiating a powerful glow,
Now is a shadow of its greatness
Looking nothing like what we call our home.
Why are we doing this?
Why do we repay our earth that provided us with so much like this?
Crestfallen, I ball my hands into fists at my side,
My face contorted with anger,
I decided to be nature’s warrior.
Not only me, but
And many more.
15-18 Winners 2023
By Liana age 17
“And I thought you’d be a millionaire by now!”
“In this economy?” A smirk danced on her lips. “You’ve always had too much faith–”
“—Or at least be out there seeing the world; or traveling as a famous dancer instead of…” He gestured to her – straight-backed, long-necked, wearing a plain white blouse and black skirt that wrapped around her hips and thighs. In fact, she looked like another one of those office workers he passed by on the streets.
“I just… thought I knew you better than most.”
She taped ash off her cigarette. “Well, we all made broken promises. Some were just to ourselves.”
Forced chuckles slowly died to choked silence. The woman tilted her head to him, and her brown eyes softened. Like warm coffee before a busy day, he thought briefly.
“So, Christian boy…” she muttered. The man silently recoiled, as he’d turned agnostic long ago. “Why did you never tell me?”
A cool breeze blew the trailing smoke eastward to the coast, temporarily veiling the opposing face.
“I…” The coarse voice that once pleaded for possibilities burnt to ash within him, and he only tasted the smouldering flames on the tip of his tongue. The man unconsciously rubbed the clasped ring around his fourth finger; its gilt shone briefly like a flashing star under the wilting sun. Aiyanna would have very choice words with him back home if he left the food cold again.
“I don’t know.” He spat. It was close enough to the truth.
The smoke dissolved. The woman dropped her gaze as if she was a performer taking a bow. Or maybe it was the look of a spectator whose friend’s show had been cancelled. “Huh.”
Red trees swayed behind the two shadows; its rustles filled the hollow air.
“Maybe.” She blew another plume of smoke and locked her gaze onto the purple view beyond, enjoying the last licks of sunset dwindling from the sky. “Or maybe I wouldn’t.”
“Well, I’ve always kept you on your toes.” The woman dropped her cigarette and crushed it with her shoe, and he flashed back to the closing night. Hand-on-waist, yellow spotlight, voices harmonizing. Even after he moved away, he never forgot the widened eyes, the wave of applause. He had only performed because of a little push, after all.
“That’s what you always liked about me,” She suddenly said, dragging him back to the present.
The man dodged her look.
“Oh, and one more thing.”
A car zoomed across the wet cobblestone; droplets of water glistened under the light as it splashed onto yellow bushes. The man stumbled backwards as another smirk danced on her lips before she turned away, hands in pockets, walking toward the waking gloom. Darkness scratched away the etched lines of the doll-like silhouette, now a figure of nothing.
He slowly raised his hand to his cheek and touched the phantom of a kiss; the ghost of another life.
By Liberty age 17
There once was a man unsure of himself,
Of normal height and average wealth.
Not witty or clever or particularly kind,
Or dull or dense with sin on his mind.
When he was young, his parents had promised,
(A promise should always be good and honest),
He was promised life was his to define,
And all would be well, and the stars would align.
He’d find his purpose, his calling in life,
Fulfilled without worries of conflict or strife.
But as he grew and learnt more of the world,
He found this a lie his parents had furled.
He worked hard at school and did well enough
To try all careers and see what he loved.
He started as a Miller, then briefly a Cook,
But found neither job suited his look.
Friar and Monk were too strict for him,
And a Pardoner lacked moral discipline.
On advice of his friend, he tested out trade,
But being a merchant was no escapade.
He wanted adventure, even a fight,
But alas, he wasn’t the greatest knight.
He came home one day, sacked another time,
And drowned his sorrows in a bottle of wine.
“Oh, why can’t I find my fated life path?
I can hardly try being the Wife of Bath!”
He slumped in his chair and read The Times,
And there was an advert, all written in rhymes.
‘Join the pilgrimage, those who need something,
To gives their lives purpose, joy and belonging.’
At this he jumped up, all in a hurry,
He dressed and packed and tried not to worry.
He checked the clock and ran out the door,
He must get to the tavern before it struck four.
By some stroke of luck, he got there in time,
To hop on his horse and join the line.
And this is where my story ends,
Thanks for listening, my new, dear friends.
Without you I would still be lost and poor,
Savouring what happiness I could afford.
Perhaps my parents’ promise was right,
I’ve been through the tunnel and reached the light.
No more am I some wretched wannabe,
I am the happiest man in Canterbury!
By Renee age 17
Partners in Crime
I watch, he spies
I laugh, he cries.
I rob the baker, he robs the bank
I’m on the treadmill, he’s on the crank.
He’s the left hand to my right
He’s my partner in the night.
I say it will get better one day,
He gets down and starts to pray.
I find us a place for the night
He’s says we have to be gone by light.
I tell him to trust in me
He laughs and says then where will I be.
I promise him, it’s him to the end of time.
He’s says we’re always going to be partners in crime.
I wake up to his signature frown,
I ask him “what’s got you down” .
He’s says he’s got business today,
I ask if he’s planning for my birthday.
He tells me to meet him at the top of the clock.
I say I’ll be there at 12:00 o’clock.
I walk aimlessly around the alleys
I steer clear of the open valleys.
I have been with him for as long as can be,
He never has business without me.
I hope he’s not in trouble again,
I hold my gun to ease my brain.
I know somethings gone wrong,
He wouldn’t be out for this long.
I watch as day turns to night,
I watch the streets fill with light.
I walk up the clock
I hear the first chime of 12 o’clock.
I see him shake in the shadows,
I feel the cold seep in from my head to my toes.
He’s there with his gun,
I’m there with my gun.
He tells me we had the same idea,
I laugh and say I hoped mine was just a fear.
I tell him I found something knew to rob,
He tells me he’s got a job.
He says he can’t do this anymore more,
He says he’s tired of sleeping on the floor.
I ask why he wants me dead,
He says he wants me out of his head.
I ask if there waiting downstairs for me,
He says it’s best to take the plea.
I ask how he got off the hook,
He says he gave back what he took.
I raise my gun
He raises his gun
I promise him, it’s him to the end of time.
He’s smiles and says we’re always going to be partners in crime.
By Iona age 16
There had been a time
when holding a supermarket calendar
felt like gazing down into a looking glass.
The reflection of an unuttered covenant
between benefactor, and beholder.
A quickly souring promise
between philanthrope and saboteur.
It began with the voracious flutter of fingertips,
as they hungrily leafed through the months:
March, for the expectant mist of new life,
June, for cerulean skies and cockleshell carcanets,
October for watery sunshine surrendering to infernal growth.
The gifts of nature and her altruisms,
in exchange for the human will – to tend.
Now, holding a supermarket calendar
feels like cradling a time capsule.
Testaments to the once-was, once-had, once-could.
Distant pipedreams of a world which lay unblemished
by the same fingertips, which once caressed it
like looking back on a half-written poem
and realising it is now meritless.
Promises falling down like cinders,
as the earth burns.