Prince Philip funeral: Simon Armitage pays moving tribute to late royal in new poem

Poet laureate says he wanted to avoid the ‘sycophancy’ that the late royal despised

Roisin O'Connor@Roisin_OConnor
Saturday 17 April 2021 15:13
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Poet Laureate Simon Armitage reads his tribute to Prince Philip

Simon Armitage has written a poem to pay tribute to Prince Philip.

The funeral of the late royal takes place today (Saturday 17 April). Armitage’s poem marks the first time he has addressed the royals during his tenure as the UK’s poet laureate.

Armitage said the obituaries for Prince Philip had taught him the royal “hated sycophancy”, and so he had written a poem that instead was “in service of all people like him”.

Titled “The Patriarchs – An Elegy”, it begins with “unseasonal” snow, and builds to a tribute to the men of the duke’s generation who were “husbands to duty”.

“I’ve written about a dozen laureate poems since I was appointed, but this is the first royal occasion and it feels like a big one,” Armitage said.

“I remember when I was appointed, there were conversations along the lines of ‘there are likely to be significant events during your tenure’ – this was probably one of the events they speculated about.”

He added: “A lot of the commentary has been around duty and service – I saw it as a prompt for writing something dutiful, and in service of all people like him.”

Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband of nearly 74 years, died on Friday 9 April, aged 99, at Windsor Castle.

Read Armitage’s poem below:

The Patriarchs – An Elegy

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.

//

Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans

across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets,

regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were

was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business.

Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became

both inner core and outer case

in a family heirloom of nesting dolls.

Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand

in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.

//

They were sons of a zodiac out of sync

with the solar year, but turned their minds

to the day’s big science and heavy questions.

To study their hands at rest was to picture maps

showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes

of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions.

Last of the great avuncular magicians

they kept their best tricks for the grand finale:

Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely.

//

The major oaks in the wood start tuning up

and skies to come will deliver their tributes.

But for now, a cold April’s closing moments

parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon

snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.

//

Philip’s “unwavering loyalty” to the Queen and his “courage, fortitude and faith” will be highlighted at his funeral.

In keeping with the Duke of Edinburgh’s wishes, there will be no sermon during the ceremonial royal service on Saturday, according to the Order of Service released by Buckingham Palace.

Follow the latest updates on the funeral ceremony here.

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