“Queenhood” by Simon Armitage

I had another post planned for today, but after hearing about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s death yesterday, I wanted to share a special poem in her honor.

“Queenhood” was written by UK Poet Laureate Simon Armitage in celebration of Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee this year. It’s a beautiful tribute to her unique life as the longest serving monarch in British history.

It’s hard to believe that just a few short months ago, Britain was in high spirits celebrating her glorious 70-year reign. Now the world is mourning her passing. Whether you’re a monarchist or not, something must be said for someone who so selflessly devoted her life to duty and public service for decades with such deep humility.

I’ve long admired this extraordinary woman, and am sad that she’s gone. It’s hard to imagine the UK, and indeed the world, without her.

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Coronation Day portrait by Cecil Beaton (Westminster Abbey, June 2, 1953).
QUEENHOOD: A Poem for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee 2022
by Simon Armitage

I

An old-fashioned word, coined in a bygone world.
It is a taking hold and a letting go,
girlhood left behind like a favourite toy,
irreversible step over invisible brink.
A new frock will be made, which is a country
hemmed with the white lace of its shores,
and here is a vast garden of weald and wold,
mountain and fell, lake, loch, cwm.
It is constancy and it is change:
the age of clockwork morphs into digital days,
but the song of the blackbird remains the same.

II

Queenhood: a long winding procession
from the abbey door to the abbey door.
Queenhood: vows taken among bibles and blades,
beneath braided banners and heralding horns;
the anointment of hand, breast, head, with oil
of cinnamon, orange, musk and rose, promises
sworn in secret under tented gold
so daylight won't frighten the magic away,
too sacred by far for the camera to see.
It is an undressing first then a dressing up,
a shedding of plain white cloth then the putting on
of a linen gown and the supertunica --dazzling gold foil
lined with crimson silk. Man will walk
on the moon, great elms will fail and fall.
But a knife's still a knife. A fork's still a fork.

III

So the emblems and signs of royalty are produced:
the gilded spurs; the blue steel sword -- like a sliver
of deep space drawn from the scabbard of night --
to punish and protect; bracelets to each wrist,
sincerity and wisdom -- both armour and bond.
Love is still love is still love, and war is war. 

IV

And indestructible towers will atomise in a blink.
The God particle will be flushed from its hiding place.
The sound barrier will twang with passenger planes.
Civilization will graft its collected thoughts
onto silicon wafers, laureates will pass through court . . . 
But Taurus, the bull, on its heavenly tour,
will breach the same horizon at the given hour.

V

Queenhood: it is the skies, it is also the soil
of the land. It is life behind glass walls
and fortified stones. Robe and stole are lifted
onto your shoulders -- both shield and yoke.
Motherhood and womanhood will be taken as read.
'Multitasking' will be canonised as a new word.

VI

It is an honouring, but also an honour.
In the flare and blur of an old film
ghostly knights and chess-piece bishops deliver
the unearthly orb, with its pearled equator
and polished realms, into your open palm;
and pass you the sceptre and rod of mercy
and justice, one bearing the cross, one plumed
with a white dove; and load your fourth finger
with a ring that makes you the nation's bride;
and offer the white kid glove with its scrollwork tattoo
of thistles and shamrocks, oak leaves and acorns;
then finally furnish your head with the crown ---
jewelled with history, dense with glory --
both owned and loaned at the same time.

Do those burnished relics still hold
the fingerprints of a twenty-seven-year-old?

VII

A priceless freight for a young woman to bear,
but, draped and adorned, a monarch walks forward
into the sideways weather of oncoming years.
And the heavy cargoes of church and state
lighten with each step, syrupy old gold
transmuted to platinum, alchemy redefined.
Queenhood: it is law and lore, the dream life
and the documentary, a truthful fantasy.
For generations we will not know such majesty.

~ Copyright © 2022 Simon Armitage. All rights reserved.

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♥️ Enjoy this short video of Simon Armitage talking about “Queenhood.”

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♥️ For more about Queen Elizabeth’s life, read my Platinum Jubilee post (with three recipes).

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Carol Varsalona is hosting the Roundup at Beyond LiteracyLink. Be sure to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week.

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Art by R.W. Alley

*Copyright © 2022 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

23 thoughts on ““Queenhood” by Simon Armitage

    1. She embodied the word “majesty” in so many ways, maintaining her mystique, yet she never came off as stand-offish or distant. The kindness and twinkle in her eye were always there.

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  1. Oh,Jama, I wondered if you would post something. What a perfect tribute. I’m not a monarchist. Most often, if I thought about “the queen,” I wondered about the sacrifice she made as a mother – never really offering them the nurturing they needed. Instead, she offered something to a country. I don’t doubt that she believed it was worth it. I wonder if her children do? Still, it’s impressive: at very least, she made a commitment and gave everything to it. It could not have been easy (well, minus all the money that made it possible).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I imagine she often felt conflicted, even guilty about not being able to nurture her children or spend more time with them, etc. That’s just one of the sacrifices she endured for the sake of her role as monarch — in my mind something to be admired. After all, she did not choose to be Queen, nor did she grow up expecting to be. As for motherhood, she did have to produce an heir. It’s a complicated situation.

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  2. Simon Armitage did an excellent job. Many good and thought-provoking lines. “jewelled with history, dense with glory — both owned and loaned at the same time” “the heavy cargoes of church and state
    lighten with each step” Thanks, Jama!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, that sad Paddington! I thought of you, Jama, when I heard the news, you who have shared much from across the water for us through the years. I am old enough to remember having a set of paper dolls from her coronation. As a young girl, it was mesmerizing! The poem is wise, isn’t it? I love “the age of clockwork morphs into digital days,/but the song of the blackbird remains the same.” Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sad Paddington is so moving. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him shed a tear before, so it made quite an impact. Coronation paper dolls ! Wish I had had them too. Love that line you quoted – that blackbird took me by surprise. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Jama. You know, after I called both my princess daughter and my own queen mother upon hearing the news yesterday, I found myself next thinking of you! You have always set a place at the table for royals and humble bears alike. It will take a while for the world to come to terms with such a loss. I’m still tearing up. What a life.
    Big hugs from here – xo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice to hear you thought of me, Robyn. Have long been fascinated by the royal family; can’t resist the history and tradition. Good to know you’re part of a royal family too. Mr C is duly impressed!

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  5. Awwwwww, what a lovely, lovely post. Her Majesty must be smiling over this. This is the best line–and so reminds me of Queen Elizabeth, “Man will walk
    on the moon, great elms will fail and fall.
    But a knife’s still a knife. A fork’s still a fork.”
    Gosh, I will miss this queen, even though she’s not mine. There will never be another queen of England in my lifetime. She was the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I totally agree with you on this point: “Whether you’re a monarchist or not, something must be said for someone who so selflessly devoted her life to duty and public service for decades with such deep humility.”

    GORGEOUS poem, but it was Paddington that made me tear up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A sad time for so many. It’s heartening to see how the British are supporting King Charles. The Queen’s a very hard act to follow; truly the “weight of history” now rests on his shoulders.

      Like

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