Motion has, by contrast, produced a gentle, straightforward hymn to private virtue over public clamour. It consists of three very traditional quatrains in iambic pentameters, the half-rhyme of the first two (air/disappear; pews/vows) yielding to the concluding harmony of the final verse (show/grow).
The idea of formal wedding-song or "epithalamium" reached England with the Renaissance, when dynastic marriages prompted verse from John Donne, Edmund Spenser and the like.
The weddings of friends or the idea of marriage have produced better poems than have noisy royal nuptials since the turn of the century. One obvious reason is that modern poets can no longer focus gleefully, as their ancestors did, on the bride's ritual loss of virginity. John Donne's 1595 "Epithalamion made at Lincoln's Inn", for example, commands the bride to get up and "put forth that warm balm-breathing thigh,/Which when next time you in these sheets will smother/There it must meet another".
Four hundred years later, we expect less sex and more solemnity in our public wedding-songs.
Recent royal weddings appear to represent a sort of Bermuda Triangle for poetic talent. Ted Hughes's nuptial ode to Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1986, "The Honey Bee and the Thistle", has a touch of mischief about it that suited the frisky pair. But it then descends into banalities and bathos.
Funerals present another set of headaches for the bard with a warrant from the Palace. Alfred Tennyson had only just begun his 40-year reign as Laureate when Wellington, the "Iron Duke" and victor at Waterloo, died in 1852. Tennyson thought he should write a funeral elegy, and the ode that resulted has a sort of stately, plodding grandeur. By that time, much of Britain considered Wellington an anti-democratic Tory despot rather than the nation's saviour. So Tennyson's reluctant tribute did render a useful service to its subject.
The Ones They Wish They Hadn't Written
Sir John Betjeman (1973)
Hundreds of birds in the air
And millions of leaves on the pavement,
Then the bells pealing on
Over palace and people outside,
All for the words "I will"
To love's most holy enslavement -
What can we do but rejoice
With a triumphing bridegroom and bride?
Written for the marriage of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips
From "The Honey Bee and the Thistle"
by Ted Hughes (1986)
Dance, dance, as Eve and Adam
Kicked their worries off
In Paradise, before they heard
God politely cough
Soft as the Thistle's crown
Then dance on, like a tuning fork
That wakes unearthly stars
In human hearts, and makes them throb
Like noble, old guitars
Gold as the Honey Bee
And dance, and dance, like Sirius
Who twirls in heaven, to show the earth
What harmony can do
Soft as the Thistle's crown
For from this day, which gives you each
To each as man and wife
That's the dance, and this the song
Of a true and happy life
Gold, gold as the Honey Bee
Soft as a Thistle's crown.
Written for the marriage of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson
From `Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1852)
Bury the Great Duke
With an empire's lamentation,
Let us bury the Great Duke
To the noise of the mourning of a mighty nation, mourning when their leaders fall,
Warriors carry the warrior's pall,
And sorrow darkens hamlet and hall.
Where shall we lay the man whom we deplore?
Here, in streaming London's central roar.
Let the sound of those he wrought for,
And the feet of those he fought for,
Echo round his bones for evermore.
Lead out the pageant: sad and slow,
As fits an universal woe, let the long long procession go,
And let the sorrowing crowd about it grow,
And let the mournful martial music blow;
The last great Englishman is low.Reuse content