Goodbye to the rarest, dearest person
ever to come to high position
with all due grandeur of procession,
yet step beyond it, merely human.
Close to so many, a family woman,
you were the mother of a new Britain.
At first strike breaking out
like a young bird pipping the shell
to a world of freedoms. What there can be
under the sky, as the wings stretch –
so, in a primal escape
a questing essence flew. Such is birth.
At once an entrance
to the wide fields of anybody’s realm.
But soon, very soon
the shawl of princesshood sheltered the face,
shielded the body, made all special;
attentive expressions, a soothing soft march
of the household, a well-tempered music
of babydom, ushered all on. So a title
lent an accompaniment
to the early form. Still very soon
a sense of lone journey
overtook the toddler. (Churchill observed
‘an air of reflectiveness
astonishing in an infant’.)
Come on Crawfie, come on come on come on!
So the blithe spirit
belaboured her governess
around the nursery. How many thousand
flying colours of the gallop
were to follow
those first free charges?
A quieter euphoria
obtained, no less passionate,
as horse after horse
raced down the long daylight,
and an eagle-eyed expert
clapped, laughed and cheered,
and somewhere – who knows? –
at the back of it all –
a little girl
flew over the hurdles.
Two sisters chose, by fortune’s cue,
a separateness in their ways…
and so arose, to common view,
a certain difference in the days
of Lilibet and of Margaret Rose…
Just once the other
popped up, always pretty, enquiring –
part of the razzmatazz – what else to do? –
just once she piped up, thoughtful – “Does this mean”
(6-year-old to 10-year-old) “you will be Queen?”
“Yes, I suppose it does.” “Poor you.”
It was a richness. Not the title,
but being a part of something that mattered,
no less, no more. So she danced down corridors
sometimes, so she looked out of windows
silently, far-away, taking it in.
Leading Grandpa England round the room by his beard,
a groom with her horse. And later
walking by the head of the pony at Sandringham
as it carried him out of the mists back to the house.
Seeing the beams and arches at the roof
of the Abbey in a haze of their own wonder
as Papa was crowned.
Playing with the family’s first corgi, Dookie,
on the afternoon Papa first brought him home…
how easily they talked, one to the other!
I shall always have corgis in my house.
Whatever words I may one day have to say,
I shall say them clearly if I can.
This is my promise to my father.
I have seen the bravest man in the world tussle with tongue-lock.
One day, if it happens, when I’m grown up –
I shall speak for him. The dogs will remind me.
I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
“Give me a light – ”
My father’s voice, fresh now as it was then,
still echoes that first Christmas broadcast
of the War. I grew up in the War.
Sometimes all I know when we are blind
is to go and pray. Prayer-words are less blind.
Sometimes all I hear is his voice at Christmas
What could I do in that lacerating time?
Throw pillows at the wireless? I decided,
each day savaged by the news of a great suffering,
simply to wait, wait for the strength to face it.
To grow, perhaps, to a sort of understanding.
To be who I was, and not too much of a problem.
It’s nothing I know. But it was good, as the end neared,
to join the A.T.S. Oh how I loved
that driving course! For the first and the only time
I could pit myself in a practical way against others.
No longer merely a thing to be looked at – I relished
getting to grips with what lay under the bonnet.
At eight o’clock a girl she wakes, at five past eight a bath she takes,
at ten past eight my ladder breaks, when I’m cleaning windows!
A natural mimic, even to the Lancashire accent,
she let herself go more than is commonly thought.
Whether George Formby on his banjolele,
or later Ian Paisley on his high horse
in an Ulster growl, she could be hysterical.
Phil? Phil, it’s Lily. Yes I’m imagining it,
but we could make a good team. You’d slide through the corners,
whooping, waving, I’d maintain the right line,
hopelessly far behind. And we’d catch up together.
Phil, you can knock the heavy invisible lumps
out of the way, with your battleship-beautiful face
daring the air, and I can pass on behind you.
Phil, we can do it. You can explain the world
to me, and I won’t listen. We can have children, all of them
looking like you, if that’s what you want – I’ll fix it,
Phil, Phil, and they’ll be brilliant, mulish,
all of them, Phil…and we two will travel the world…
and with you, my layabout god, I shall be at home
wherever I am. It’s only your Lily dreaming.
Who knew of an untapped mine of Ron and Eth-type
telepath conversations? Just a bird’s flutter
onto a wire of irresponsible daydream.
Who writes? Who speaks? Somewhere behind the scenes,
in the run-up to a far and distant prospect,
there is a mind at play.
It came closer.
On her 21st birthday she spoke to millions.
At a reception in Cape Town she grasped
the staff, the nettle, and the hidden meaning.
I declare before you that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great Imperial family to which we all belong…
Let it be said, once and for all, this Queen
was nothing like a petty-minded racist.
Amazingly for her background and her time
she backed the black cause. Time after time
through friendship, listening – and by knowing the details –
by nuance, as by delicate manoeuvre
against her own deaf governments – she side-stepped
the reactionary standpoint (always within
the constitutional parameter) –
till magically, it might be said, at last
the Commonwealth had brushed away the ghost
that lingered for a time of a dead Empire.
Let it be said, she heard a voice of people.
There was no black, no brown. There was a freeing.
There was a family.
All this, a seed to flower, somewhere lay in
I declare before you…
On Coronation Day she did her own make-up.
Alone with her thoughts at the start, she could let the geometry
of the day, and future days, be there, and if
she did not cross the lines, but lived the richness
of old and new design, and stayed her own person,
it would fall into place. It would carry her through.
“Ready, girls?” she called. The Maids of Honour
fifty years on said how serene she had been.
The Gold State Coach, the cheering crowds, the procession
into the Abbey’s heart…the Oath…the Anointing…
the Crowning itself…all the salutations…
the beautiful words of Philip as her liege man…
the tapestry of the day, now there forever –
all fell away the moment she got home
and laughing, ran ahead of her Maids of Honour,
collapsed onto a sofa, and kicked her shoes off.
Meanwhile she had entered womanhood.
What freshness in being given to the ocean,
of turning comfortably in the great folds,
of breasting the waves, of letting the tug and thrust
take a part of your being on and past
the horizon’s lip, of rising and of dipping
to the swell of life, of touching upon the eon
of a woman’s time, of travelling in the element.
So with a husband and two children now
to continue on the way.
My father is gone, and I know he is gone
because I am missing the truest companion
there ever has been.
My father is gone, and I know he is gone
not because of the funeral, or that I am queen.
We stopped the bows and curtseys of small children,
Philip and I. “Enough of this diehard nonsense!”
he barked. And I was with him. Charles and Anne
had the sun and rain and laughter all about them
as they lit upon the lower slopes of childhood,
unmatchable in a runabout loveliness.
So every parent thrills to see before them
what they cannot recall. Philip and I
were very much at one about the children.
Be there for them. And let them make their way.
There was an issue, though, to do with them.
No, Philip. Churchill says – Churchill says? This is my name we’re talking about! My NAME! Am I to be the only man in the country who can’t pass his surname on to his children? Philip, we’ve been through this. YOU’VE been through this. I’m not halfway through it. But Uncle Dickie’s boasting – Let him boast. What’s wrong with Mountbatten? What’s WRONG with it? Oh, come on, Philip. How long have you had that name? IT’S MY NAME! What am I, a bloody amoeba? Have you any idea of the sheer damn flattening my life’s taken? Philip, Churchill says, and Grandpa England – I mean – Grandpa England, for God’s sake! All right then, George the Fifth wanted Windsor for the royals, it’s a link – And what about you?
What do you want? Stop sheltering behind Britain’s has-beens! All right then, I will. I want it to stay Windsor. So I’m to go through life with a face like a tomato, the potency of my name ripped away – Philip, Philip, come on, is there anything in the universe less like a tomato than you? And as for – I knew I’d get a smile from you! Philip – Don’t “Philip” me. You know, don’t you, who’s really behind this? Not Churchill, not your grandfather, it’s your mother. I’ve done everything I can to ignore her slights. I’ve been dutiful, courteous, I’ve been loving even – I know it. You’ve been wonderful. But it’s my name she’s pouncing on now! MY NAME! That Hun-hating horror! Just because my sisters – Elizabeth. Lilibet. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
Later a way was found for minor royals
to accede to a loyalty of belonging
and take the name Mountbatten-Windsor. But
there was a rift. It stood for more. He knew
I went some way – indeed a long way – with
the “diehard nonsense”. Let a little light in
upon the magic – so the time will have it –
but don’t throw up the blinds. The family linkage
is deep-set, strong. With all my heart
I heard his cry. But the ear was deaf. He knew
that I was not with him.
And Margaret, my sister, doubted me.
No-one knew what I really felt. You are free
to be happy, my love. You’ve met the right man, I know it.
Follow your freedom to a new Margaret.
Hit the hills. You know what you are, what he has.
Fly off like a bird from all this razzmatazz.
But I know you won’t. You caught the wrong end of it,
it drags you onto the glittering floor. You dance it,
dally and dazzle and delight in its tint –
and what do you know of life outside the gate?
What sort of a sister am I? I can give no hint.
Ah, my bird, if you could fly through the gate!
You see the part of me that is pulled down too.
You assume – correctly – it’s what I want for you.
Ah sister, no, you are my bird, be free.
This “I” with jesses in my hand – it’s not me.
Ah, my bird, I have trapped you. What other free soul
am I to over-contain by the weight of my role?
But there were people to see, and papers to sign,
with every day the opening and the closing
of a red box. She had a gift for detail;
and yet being born, it seemed, with a priceless mindset:
of being a part and parcel of proceedings,
and having the wit not to over-think.
After the hey-ho Suez anachronism,
with Eden walking – who would be PM?
“Is it Wab or Hawold?” asked Lord Salisbury.
As the tide turned from Butler to Macmillan,
there were moments of a sometimes staggering pressure
as people sought to sway her.
Yet one might say,
if over her life this lady learnt one thing,
it was how to stand, and how to keep the balance.
And so to Ghana
where bombs in Accra threatened Nkrumah.
How was a guest to be safe? Parliament was torn.
The first black leader of the continent
flirted with Khruschev but ached for the kudos
of the Queen’s visit. She had no doubt:
“It would be a fine thing if I was scared off
and Khruschev came! I shall dance with Nkrumah.”
It was a light step of no small account.
The Commonwealth found a new warmth in its bonding,
and the Cold War had less play in Africa.
How to bamboozle Wedgwood Benn?
Ask him to spread his plans on the floor
to scrap from the stamps for evermore
the monarch’s head, show a touch of awe
at the fine modern design – and then
let him trot back to Number Ten.
Wilson will know you’re not quite sure…
the word has gone out. He needs you for when
Rhodesia cuts loose. He will ensure
the Postmaster General knows the score.
And that’s how to keep things as before
without offending a Minister – or
how to bamboozle Wedgwood Benn.
Sometimes it took longer. When Ian Smith
declared UDI and white minority rule,
there was an unholy “battle for the Queen”.
Different representations of the handbook –
its flimsy empty pages – of the substance
behind her role – the meaning of allegiance –
led to a deadlock lasting 14 years.
Finally at the CHOGM in Lusaka
she said to Kaunda, Banda and Nyerere
(of Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania),
since they and all the others knew her well –
why shouldn’t they all know each other as well?
At the same time she managed to lend Thatcher –
who’d have thought it? – an instinct for accord.
So the long day was done. The clock moved forward,
and Southern Rhodesia became at last Zimbabwe.
The art of the figurehead. But there was a moment
she failed to wheel it smoothly to the scene.
“Philip, I was haunted. I kept seeing
a slag-heap crashing down upon our little ones.
I don’t know where. I don’t know why or how.
Just crashing, crashing. Charles and Anne are not there –
but Andrew is – and our little Edward –
I can’t get it out of my mind. I’m so selfish,
I should have been down there days ago.” “I know.”
They went. Villagers silently came to them,
dressed in black. They clambered over mud,
broken planks and corrugated iron
and shattered desks, to the top of the heap
that still buried the school. They were accepted,
and she was known as a mother and a friend.
“Philip, last night I saw a great tombstone
in my dream. On it was a verse
but I can only remember the first line now.
We are the children of Aberfan…”
Time to go racing. Mother and daughter
watched their Irish jumper, Monaveen,
briefly lead at Aintree, 1950.
Something screamed inside them. For a turf-stretch
they were one and the same – a passionate instant,
a spark to share for the next 50 years.
Each day they spoke – like as not about horses.
“Have you been reigning today?” Mummy would ask,
when roles and curtseys were reversed. Two women
with such a blaze of recognition in difference.
Each was called to a tight and dangerous course.
Each was in for the long run. Each would stay.
At heart they wore the same racing colours.
Meanwhile with an earth-shaking clumsiness
it felt the top was being levered off
the whole long ground of royalty – the stables,
the diet, grooming, early-morning gallops,
the transportation vehicles, the gossip,
and every intimate detail of the going
that long-range lens could spot. Nothing is private,
little is sacred. All one can do
is to nod at the conditions, to stay focussed,
to take part in an ever-changing order –
and not to blab too much.
‘Those filthy rags of newspapers,’
as the old King was wont to say,
and now the ogling screen,
its gasping interviews, its snide
approach – to be on the inside
and get some jabs in – its wide-eyed
paid-by-the-hour sincerity –
this apparatus of today
to wound…at least it all might mean
an end to sycophancy.
But far worse is the welcoming smile
that laps up accusation,
and seems to lift at every sneer,
and stakes its all on a new smear.
What shame it is to see and hear
a host’s meek adulation,
who asks the young guests to revile
the very ones they should hold dear.
And so a tape forever plays
a jackpot simper that betrays,
a smile too far that pays and pays.
That calls for celebration.
There is something to be said for keeping shtum.
Elizabeth and Philip knew how to play dumb.
Anne knows it too ad infinitum…
and Edward’s learning.
We are still all learning about television.
In concert with the age, it is all too likely
to offer intimacy without respect.
Back in the day, the John Freeman interviews
accorded space. Later question-master
edged in too close, “in the public interest”,
and Face to Face came to mean ‘in your face’.
A balance was lost. A sense of being quizzed
was there on the most innocent occasion.
The subjects themselves made merry with the new format.
Close up, and unnaturally natural,
the old conventions all at odds with the new,
a single airing could go very wrong.
It’s a Royal Knockout, Edward’s project,
is a case in point. A string of royal interviews
is another. Damage is done. Far better
not to blab. An insidious medium
plays havoc with a specimen from the past,
a royal house. The screen’s prismatic power
is on a journey of its own. Far better
to let that plant of such longevity,
that brings such sustenance of rich idea
into the present, by its own re-rooting,
and by its colour and entwining strength –
far better (if the species is to survive)
to let a certain characteristic in
(acquired, as it may be, from the late queen)
and seek to flourish in a sense of shade.
Which means, as each flower shows its face – it’s better
not to turn like a sunflower to the sun,
not to be switched on to the public glare,
not to gaze at the camera, not to be
out in the open when you are not in the open.
And when you find speech and the words of the air
come to you, it is better not to be shrill,
not fuss or fight, but form a thought for the future,
not to reprise the infant. Not to blab.
It is as if the roads rejoiced,
as if the very island voiced
a tribute to Her Majesty.
It is the Silver Jubilee.
She climbs Snow Hill. A beacon’s lit,
a hundred other such with it.
She tours the country, makes grand speeches…
it is the common heart she reaches.
What work, to make a fairy-tale!
They speak of her up hill, down dale.
Within the twelve-month she has been
to every land where she is Queen.
It is a thankyou: just the word.
It is as if the world has stirred.
It is so very real to see
the magic in a Jubilee.
Enter a queen. That was the introduction
to a master-class of the monarch’s role.
In Canada, in Australia there had been bumps
tidily handled. In the Falklands War
it needed to be seen that America backed it.
She went riding with Reagan. A classy act,
the cowboy president thought. An OK came through.
At home the clattering schedule went like clockwork:
the weekly audience with the PM; the visits,
greetings; all the accruement of the long day.
How did she do it? It was the human factor.
Even in the detail of the red box it lay:
expectations, hopes, designs and dreams.
Always a personal aspect was in play.
In this each last requirement of the role
had its first cause and was attended to.
– But nearer home a personal element
can whirl about in monster form.
could be heard behind the scenes.
a part of her hated herself.
saw her through.
There was, in their twofold role,
a dedication on the public level
nothing could stop, nothing could ever stop.
If the grief of their children’s marriages
owed an iota to the circumstance
and endless visible working of the “Firm”,
then so it was. But she was not to blame.
His closeness then, with much unsaid, redeemed her
from a devilish self-doubt. If still she wept
it was also for the world where parents wept
the waywardness of children. They both knew
a family could have a will of its own.
The two did what they could and offered a way.
Two family heads kept the show on the road,
accepting a joint helplessness. There was
no panacea for a paterfamilias,
no master-class for a materfamilias.
What a whirl! But in a tremulous time
of the bitter taste of acrimony and tears,
of seeing flash, and flash again
the knife of separation and divorce,
that shiver in the air, and hearing in the mind
the cries of grandchildren…through all the nightmare
a breath of strength lay by me.
I cannot say
how much I owe an indomitable presence.
It is my deep luck and my life’s enchantment
merely to share a mote of being, intact,
with the truest man in the world.
Even the household gods seemed to waylay,
most terribly, with a flickering of great beams,
the royal construct. Windsor Castle burned.
Bent and distraught, she looked at her childhood home.
No-one was hurt. But her memories
played havoc in the blaze. No time to breathe,
but all at once a secondary flare-up,
a red-hot news campaign about the bill.
An after-image of the flames played out
in a profitable outrage in the papers.
The royal account, already half re-written,
met the repair. The uproar died away.
Phil, Phil, it’s your Lily. I’ve had such an idea,
I daren’t say it to your face, it’s just me
sending a thought, as sometimes I do.
It’s about my – well, I’ll just say it, my hands.
Yes Phil, my hands, my pudgy hands,
you don’t like them, I don’t like them –
you do? I know you better than that.
Anyhow, here’s the idea, don’t laugh –
I thought I’d try finger painting. You know,
dab dab dab. For two reasons really –
I’d get to respect them, an artist’s hands.
And you know that picture, that went in the fire?
Oh Phil, it’s only your Lily, stop laughing.
Who can trace
a conversation’s light asides? Within
a difference of nature, a being-at-odds
in some of the least important things, a distance,
they rested against each other, and were one.
A wild swan
sailed in on a flood of expectation
to a palace setting. Helplessly
adrift, it screamed.
All the world watched
as it bucked and looped, beautifully, in air.
To so many
its very breath bespoke an inner voice:
it talked to them of freedom, softly sang
the liberties of the heart. To so many
as it circled
it told a story of the open air.
It signalled what might be.
And when it died, hurtled into a pillar,
undone by its own swirls and swoops, still trapped
within itself, yet striving still, and shining…
it left a pattern
imprinted on the air,
its very life a parabolic teaching.
Ah Charles, those screams.
Up in Balmoral every last instinct
told her to stay quietly with the boys.
She was fierce for them. Neither could she
let the flag tradition – part of the backcloth
to the land’s theatre – be unknowingly trampled.
She chose her moment to come south. And since she
carried the courtesies of being within her
and a respect for the dead was manifest,
the crowd accepted her. A seething mutter
to damn the family was overcome.
A turbulent instant passed. A shimmer of anger
against the monarchy itself was quelled.
There is a gift, of letting things take their time,
of never clutching at despair, of seeing
a space ahead – let people find their way –
of not being adamant but being there.
Even in the most excruciating shock
and terror of the heart – there is a way
to sane response, to a continuance
however brief. In the following years,
after a tragedy at the nation’s heart,
by standing back and staying busy, she let
a space ahead be seen. It could be said,
merely by staying in role, she led the country
into a new time – merely by her being
who she was, who she had learnt to be.
Who was she? Someone who could stand the pace
and pace the standing. Over twenty thousand
engagements, and no hint of a complaint.
As she said to Susan Crosland some years back,
“One plants one’s feet like this,” hoisting the skirt
above the ankles: “make sure to keep them parallel,
and that the weight is evenly divided.
That’s all there is to it.” She kept the balance.
Someone who economised in the household,
turning lights off. This is the lady
who kept the Cornflakes in Tupperware containers
in Buckingham Palace. She liked to make the tea
with a swivel-mounted kettle of Philip’s design.
Someone, it seemed, who kept an eye on things.
In later age simply she was a presence
who had seen much and said little, but was known.
From 9/11 to the sorrow of Ukraine
she saw and felt – as it may be – the heartbreak
of the world’s way. Not many gained her thoughts
but those who did were glad to talk with her.
She braved it out. In her Golden Jubilee year
her sister died, her mother died. And still
she was there for the people, every step of the way.
And it was with delight that she saw her son
wed at last to his one love, Camilla.
Of course she compared it to the Grand National.
They have overcome Becher’s Brook and the Chair and all kinds of other terrible obstacles. My son is home and dry with the woman he loves.
Did she, before she died, reflect on the other?
There will forever be
of love to see, when people are less blind.
There will forever be
a light to see,
a constellation in the country’s mind.
There will forever be
a star to see,
a new Diana, a new hope to find.
A myth, a truth-ray for the land. The world
itself takes on a piece of fiery story
to keep an ideal burning.
Here and now
the concept of a life and work at one
is almost re-defined.
It was a holy
From King Egbert
a symbol came
of a land’s trust.
In the Anointing
it came to her,
a sacred sign
So it neared the heart,
a symbol re-born,
and flowering now
in rose and thistle,
Over her tenure
after the lead-in,
so far as she could
she felt ready,
trained for the job
and alert to the call.
As a swift horse
in a stable,
she knew what to do.
A sharp sense
of the ground, the going,
by now ingrained,
was never idle.
Still she went on tour. The U.S.A.,
the Baltic Republics, the Republic of Ireland,
the U.A.E., and more, to each she was,
because of who she was, a people’s friend.
As with her audiences: with PMs, Popes
and members of the public, without losing
a formal touch, almost an unoriginal
persona, she conveyed the unstudied person.
(In one-to-one, the base and the foundation
to any bridge.)
Off-duty, she could come up with one-liners,
as in a private letter to Hardy Amies:
Thank you for the enormous bill, which will take a little time to pay.
Or after a voyage up the west coast of Scotland,
in the Royal Yacht, when everyone was sea-sick,
I lay on my bunk and thought: I’ll have to abdicate.
Or in a practical mood, in her early days,
to someone complaining of the smell of new paint:
Put a bucket of hay in there, that’ll take it away.
If formally the wings of her speech were clipped,
informality was her next of kin.
From Sandringham she would sometimes go discreetly
a few miles off to a council flat in King’s Lynn
to talk with a racing-pigeon breeder there.
Her life was regimented – surely a word
she would have approved. Attention.
At the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior
she stands. And with her all
her soldiers come to attention.
The Royal Engineers stand tall,
the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
are there in spirit, each one
of the men and women who took the Queen’s shilling,
till their day of battle is done,
will silently stand behind her.
For an eternal instant
the R.A.F. Colour Squadron
stands to attention, silent.
At the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior
the Band of the Royal Marines
is on poised page: now for an age
a memory-thought of the Queen’s
is the mind of Britain’s army.
The bravery of the unknown,
of the least grand in every land,
burns high for a second: is gone.
She steps back now. What stays?
Above the eternal flame,
a bouquet of orchids and myrtle,
to honour an unknown name.
The Forces’ men and women
followed her to the grave. Dismissed.
The other side of the blood and thunder lay
the gentle blessing of a church. From Westminster Abbe
to Crathie Kirk she was in the home of God
and made her pledge
and took her sustenance
as into a circle
she drew forward
joined a family
sat at a table
touched by the flicker
of an unrestricted
current of love
as every woman
as every man
as every child
at once the highest
and the lowest
In the family
is an idea
above the reach beyond the grasp below
the deepest human root: it is
the link to life and breath before (if not
to after). Part of the DNA
in what interprets what it sees, it has
a presence in the mind. To a degree
if vanishingly small, it governs us…
still in our visible action it emerges.
It sings in symbol and it speaks in schemes.
It is of the worship of each time and home
and room that has a place for love’s ideal.
In practical terms too, it is of the workshop
of each land’s rule. It is to a degree
(in monarchy or republic) how we govern.
To a wielder of the concept
of family, it must have appeared
acceptable, to say no more,
to see the succession of three
To a grandmother, what joy –
Peter, Zara, William, Harry, Beatrice, Eugenie, Louise, James
and all their little scamps and scamperers.
And at a daughter’s 70th –
what joy to recognise
an unparalleled example
of service in the guise
of an everyday quiet competence.
To salute Anne the Wise.
He is no more.
The charismatic teenager I saw
when we first met, who leapt a tennis-net,
I at the side, the merest budding flower,
who loved him, and still love him, from that hour
who now have loved him eighty years and more
the easy brilliance that he wore
a shine in the eyes, an indefinable power
there is so much to thank him for
behind the quizzical smile, the mocking word,
that all-too-ready sense of the absurd –
the absolute honour, the esprit de corps
You played the impatient man, but (dear) you were
the most forbearing, patient character
the world has seen. Every step of the way
I was supported. Every day
(and I do not exaggerate) I knew
a gratitude was due. The re-shaped life,
the love (as much as ever man gave wife),
took me along, and gave me headway. Nor
can I leave you now. I shall do what I can
in the little that is left me of my span…
but I am yours, since our first hour began,
and I shall take your lead now, as before.
your ship (with me aboard) has come to shore.
At the funeral service
she sat alone. In the cold of Covid
how could she blur the lines? She always knew
the outward forms, while binding as “correct”,
were also likeliest, in the role she played
(if need there be) to pursue a breakthrough.
In the cold of Covid
she learned to video-conference with aplomb,
and warmed the heart a tad, a touch –
with the knighting in the sunshine of Captain Tom.
Phil? It’s your Lily. I had such a dream,
I forgot to tell you. ‘EastEnders’ were looking
for a lady whose children had gone haywire.
I survive it all and shift to Albert Square –
so I outlined my ideas for the part –
and the children visit. But why weren’t you with me?
Anyway it’s the identity thing in spades,
it’s all the rage. So Charles and Anne
swap genders, and there I am in the Queen Vic,
in charge for a while, and Andrew’s a bouncer,
and Edward’s setting up a karaoke show,
and – Phil, you’re not there. Are you with me at all?
That free soul I share my non-messages with,
has it faded away? Is it off the air?
Phil, it’s your Lily. Why am I crying?
All I want to do is to tell you
I got the part, I got the part…
Some days I am suddenly weary.
Some nights I am half dead with worry.
Oh Harry, Harry
The form of things returns, the diary fills,
the page flips over, and people smile.
Tired, still game
the owner of that strange word, “monarch”
finds herself at the opening of the gate
of yet another precious-metalled year.
Let it swing back on the past.
A platinum-coated gate admits
any number of egregious statistics:
but these, the record of a surface change
of seventy years, are all beside the point.
Gadgets: TV, the Net; the nature of work:
more service-sector, and less making of things,
more women at work, and even women in power;
the cleaner climate; the more liberal outlook…
the facts and figures flood in and drown out
the point. The change is in what does not change.
Which is how the symbol of the nation is seen
alongside all its shifts and starts. It is how
a figurehead can yet make us more human.
Nothing could show this more
than the warmth between the Queen and Nelson Mandela.
Brother and sister, there was an ease between them.
It was as if each knew to the other’s honour
the key of trust that either held.
In her reign
she cherished the countries of the United Kingdom.
She visited Wales more than 300 times.
She loved the journey, loved the land. And always
the crowds came out in force. In Northern Ireland
an intractable set-up did not stop her trying
to show she understood the hurt. They saw it
each side of a fraught border: and (as always)
a line was less of a border then. In Scotland
they always knew she loved them and their land.
In England, England, all the bells rang out,
and never a single peal imperiously.
In her reign
the Commonwealth prospered mightily. But the hard questions
were always there: a disdain for human rights
leading, on occasion, to atrocity.
State visits, meetings, letters, chats on the ’phone
with the main players, knowing the background story,
swapping memories and admiring progress –
with such a slight involvement the Commonwealth grew.
A family in turmoil in some respects,
to lead and not to lead it has been her way.
To wait, to listen, to encourage, to be there.
Hard questions remain. But the union’s growth
suggests a presence at a later time
of a ranging power for good. A legacy.
And beyond all blocs and eye-on-the-goal alliances,
on the factory floor of life, one person is known
as an emblem of successful, patient endeavour.
In her reign
a humble woman touched the nerve of the world.
On a Tuesday morning, two days before she died,
she telephoned her racing manager,
and received her final two Prime Ministers,
one out, one in. The first said later,
she showed great understanding in her comments
of the picture at large – and too, of his own.
The second was welcomed with so broad a smile,
you might have thought she was a girl again.
at dusk. A bird
flies through a hall
and out and on.
Thousands on thousands
have come to be near her.
The coffin is guarded,
a world is gone.
Here in the half-light
of Westminster Hall
is a departure.
here a death-moment
becomes a life-moment.
A world, a hope,
a spirit, a bird.
at dusk. They have come
to one of the greatest
queens and kings,
and a likeable woman,
to say goodbye.
In the still hall
a mystery sings.
Sir, on your Coronation
be assured you have our trust.
Your years of service have ennobled you.
The need for armour in the hurly-burly
of an outside world’s intrusiveness,
the gleam in the public eye,
did not sit well with one who wore
the raiment of a sensitive soul.
But a core of steel has been forged in the fire.
Sir, with your interest
in the arts and crafts, and the balance of old and new,
the needs at once of the manned Earth and of Nature,
and with a certain value you embody
at once so reticent and visible –
we have, for a King, a remarkably good man.
Still he walks with her, giving her away:
a father rueful at a daughter’s loss,
and a young woman on her wedding-day.
Her lips move with the words she has to say
too soon. His feet slow on the stones they cross.
Still he walks with her, giving her away.
He wonders – ‘Will she tend to get her way,
while letting her young man appear the boss?’
He tells himself – ‘Now on their wedding-day
I must not ask – when will they come and stay?
I shall do nothing to disturb the gloss.’
Still he walks with her, giving her away…
‘This day will shine for her, I hope and pray,
for good against the world’s decay and dross.’
She thinks – ‘With my whole life I shall repay
my father for these steps upon this day.’
And now they’re there. He hands the bride across.
Still he walks with her, giving her away,
an excited daughter on her wedding-day.