Motion's modest proposal: media keep off newlyweds

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The Independent Online
ANDREW MOTION opens his innings as Poet Laureate today with a coded plea for the media to spare the latest royal couple the intrusion that has so damaged every other marriage in the House of Windsor over the past two decades.

Motion's 12-line "Epithalamium: St George's Chapel, Windsor", which celebrates the marriage of Prince Edward to Sophie Rhys-Jones, ends with a series of vows that includes the hope "for privacy and what its secrets show". For Miss Rhys-Jones, who recently had to endure the sale of topless snapshots to Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper, the poet's wish may prove at least as apt as her famous promise to "obey" her husband-to-be.

That veiled sideswipe at the tabloids is about the only contemporary touch in an otherwise traditional poem. Motion has played safe on a very sticky wicket. It would be hard to imagine a tougher test for a Laureate's first outing than the terrain at Windsor. The wedding of a youngest son, not long after a string of spectacular marital failures; a bride dragged into the quagmire of tabloid scandal; a public weary of monarchical hype and unwilling to take the bunting out of mothballs. Given the conditions, any bard would be well advised to go easy on the pomp and circumstance.

The formal wedding-song has a long and majestic history. The genre reached England with the Renaissance, when dynastic marriages prompted memorable verse from the likes of John Donne and Ben Jonson.

This century, however, the weddings of friends or the idea of marriage has tended to produce better poems than ornate royal occasions.

One embarrassingly obvious reason is that modern poets can no longer focus gleefully, as their ancestors did, on the well-born bride's ritual loss of virginity.


St George's Chapel, Windsor

by Andrew Motion

One day, the tissue-light through stained glass falls

on vacant stone, on gaping pews, on air

made up of nothing more than atom storms

which whiten silently, then disappear.

The next, all this is charged with brimming life.

A people-river floods those empty pews,

and music-torrents break - but then stop dead

to let two human voices make their vows:

to work - so what is true today remains the truth;

to hope - for privacy and what its secrets show;

to trust - that all the world can offer it will give;

to love - and what it has to understand to grow.

Written for the marriage of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones