In April as Americans were celebrating National Poetry Month, the British had another poetic occasion: the death of their 99 year old Prince Consort. Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was celebrated in many ways after his death on April 9th. One of the ways was by having a poem written by the official Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, Simon Armitage.
The role of Poet Laureate is a time-honored one in Great Britain. It has been held by many famous men (and one woman) since 1668: to name just some, Dryden, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Hughes, and Carol Ann Duffy. It used to be that the Poet Laureate was required to write about all the royal occasions, but now there is no official job description. (You can read about that, and various other FAQ, here.) So Armitage wasn't required to write about Philip's death, but he chose to, anyway.
Writing about royal events is a bit more of a tricky proposition than it used to be. There are mixed feelings about royalty in the United Kingdom these days. I read several articles during the funeral period about how the BBC had received many complaints about their coverage being too long and extensive. But of course, there are others who couldn't possibly get enough royal coverage.
I thought Simon Armitage hit a nice compromise with his poem, in which he eulogized (or eulogised, as they spell it in England) not just Philip, but his generation. The poem begins this way:
The Patriarchs - An Elegy
by Simon Armitage
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.
You can read the rest here. And/or, you can listen to it as you watch this video released by the Royal Family, including photos of Philip from throughout his long life.
Of course, many towns and cities and countries and other bodies have Poet Laureates, too. Who's your favorite Poet Laureate of the past or present? And do you think you'd like a job where you're supposed to write poems for official events? Would you thrive with all those built-in poetry prompts, or would it give you writer's block?
You can see this week's roundup here.