The Patriarchs – An Elegy
The weather in the window this morning
is snow, unseasonal singular flakes,
a slow winter’s final shiver. On such an occasion
to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up
for a whole generation – that crew whose survival
was always the stuff of minor miracle,
who came ashore in orange-crate coracles,
fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea
with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.
Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans
across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets,
regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were
was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business.
Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became
both inner core and outer case
in a family heirloom of nesting dolls.
Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand
in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.
They were sons of a zodiac out of sync
with the solar year, but turned their minds
to the day’s big science and heavy questions.
To study their hands at rest was to picture maps
showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes
of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions.
Last of the great avuncular magicians
they kept their best tricks for the grand finale:
Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely.
The major oaks in the wood start tuning up
and skies to come will deliver their tributes.
But for now, a cold April’s closing moments
parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon
snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.
Written by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage upon the death of The Duke of Edinburgh who was laid to rest yesterday at Windsor. He was born seventeen days after my late mother under the same star sign - Gemini. Next month she would have been a hundred years old but died in 2007 when she was eighty six.
"To eulogize one man is to pipe up for a whole generation." That is a very moving line. 'Duty' is not an attribute that receives the honor it deserves in these days.ReplyDelete
Duty and honour tend to operate quietly without drumbeat.Delete
We watched a little of the funeral. It was heartbreaking to see the Queen alone. She has lived her entire life as a life of duty, very different times. I saw a photo of her recently, she was walking past a guard but it was actually Prince Philip and he said hello to her. She looked like she was giggling. I hope she was.ReplyDelete
She was lucky to have found him before the duty of being a monarch called.Delete
Don't think much of his poetry I'm afraid.ReplyDelete
RIP Prince Phillip.
Of course you are entitled to your opinion Helen but I think that Simon Armitage is a genius.Delete
That was really moving and incredibly sums up a whole generation perfectly.ReplyDelete
I like the way that Armitage addresses the death as if Prince Philip was the standard bearer of a generation.Delete
I'm not a believer in Royalty and Colonialism but I do like the way Simon Armitage speaks for that generation that defeated Fascism.ReplyDelete
Yes. It is an effective take on the old duke's passing - seeing him as a representative of his generation.Delete
Surely for such an occasion the poem should be a tribute to Prince Philip himself, rather than to a generation? There are many poems honouring each generation, but rarely an opportunity to eulogise one such important, much revered and loved man? After reading it, if I hadn't seen the photograph at the top, I would not have known who it was meant to honour.ReplyDelete
I respect your considered point of view CG. However, I would just ask this: shouldn't a poet who is worth his or her salt be expected to surprise us with an unexpected take on a national moment?Delete
Yes, YP, there are times when an unexpected take might be appropriate, and even welcome.Delete
On this occasion, I feel that something more personal would have been in keeping with the man honoured. Time will tell how well these words remain in the public consciousness, but will the next generation have any idea who, or what, the poem is about - and worse, will they even care?
I think Armitage got it just right as poet laureate. Prince Philip represented the old generation of values that have now gone out of fashion with the new modern generations. His attributes are plain for all to see, his duty to crown and country was exemplary.ReplyDelete
As I suggested to CG, I am glad that he reflected on Philip's death in an unexpected manner.Delete
*Snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.*ReplyDelete
Prince Philip died in *a cold April* but new life is all around.
Armitage's last line reminds me of *Full fathom five thy father lies.*
Shakespeare closes with *Nothing of him that doth fade/ But doth suffer a sea-change/ Into something rich and strange.*
The Poet Laureate remembers a generation because Prince Philip is one of its last members; they seem to us now like *great-grandfathers from birth,* because soon they will all be gone, as the men of the Somme are gone.
There is an old interview with the fascist cult-leader Oswald Mosley on YouTube; it is frightening to read some of the comments by Mosley admirers.
These ignorant people are fooled by Mosley's commanding presence; he refuses to acknowledge his implicit guilt in the Holocaust or Shoah.
His son Nicholas Mosley had a painful relationship with his father and wrote a brilliant anti-fascist novel, Hopeful Monsters.
*Sir Oswald Mosely Interview Thames Television 1975.*
A very English Hitler.
As usual, interesting reflections John though I had not expected the springboard jump to Mosley.Delete
I am still aware of unlaid ghosts, Neil. Including the friendly ghosts like our parents and grandparents. Brexit will hang in the air for some time to come.ReplyDelete
I have been rereading Caroline Fink's biography of Marc Bloch (1886-1944) historian, soldier in two World Wars, leader of the Resistance; tortured, killed.
Bloch was a hero and thinker, founder of the French historical journal, Annales.
David Frost's interview with Mosley (YouTube) has documentary footage of Mosley in the Thirties giving the Nazi salute at Fascist rallies in London.
A very fitting tribute, I think. It takes a rare man to do the job that the Duke of Edinburg did and he seemed to do it with a great deal of grace.ReplyDelete
And yet he was not naturally a follower or a "yes" man. He remained true to himself.Delete
I enjoyed Armitage's poem very much - it's very meaningful and evocative of a generation that is all but gone to us. I also loved Armitage's quiet self-effacing comment that it would have been rude of him to write a poem that was solely about someone he didn't even know; he dealt with the request in a way that produced fitting words (perhaps especially so in a year when others of that generation have died uncelebrated), but also conveyed a humble integrity that is rare.ReplyDelete
Your thoughts about Armitage's poem mirror mine quite faithfully Elizabeth.Delete
I can never understand what funerals are all about. We do not intend to have one for either of us. I think we can remember our loved one's without standing by a hole in the ground or seeing the casket going into the fire.ReplyDelete
Once we are gone they can do what they like with the shell.
I would say they can have it for science but I'm sure they would laugh at that.lol
That's a radical stance and I applaud you and Tom for taking that position. At my mother's funeral I stood by her coffin and said - That's not mum in there, it's just the vessel in which she travelled through life... before continuing with her eulogy.Delete
I'm pleased you see our point YP, so many people do not. We have discussed this with the kids and they are all happy with it. I remember my Mum and Dad's funeral and others in the family and have thought why put yourself through all this when the deceased would not want you to be so miserable. I hate the thought of my kids and Tom watching a box go to the fire it's horrible. On the plus side a 'direct funeral' cost a lot less. lolDelete
Clever poem I thought - i rather like Simon Armitage as the laureateReplyDelete