Prince Philip: Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s first royal poem is an elegy to Duke of Edinburgh

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Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s first royal poem is a moving elegy to Prince Philip as an emblem of the wartime generation whose survival was the ‘stuff of minor miracle’

  • Poet Laureate Simon Armitage has written elegy to Duke of Edinburgh as emblem of the wartime generation
  • The poem, entitled The Patriarchs, also refers to the duke and his generation as ‘husbands to duty’
  • It is first time Armitage has penned poem as laureate for a royal occasion since he was appointed in May 2019

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Poet Laureate Simon Armitage has written a moving elegy to the Duke of Edinburgh as an emblem of the wartime generation whose survival was ‘the stuff of minor miracle’.

The poem, entitled The Patriarchs, also refers to the duke and his generation as ‘husbands to duty’ and ‘great-grandfathers from birth’ who became the ‘inner core and outer case’ for their families.

It is the first time Armitage has penned a poem as laureate for a royal occasion since he was appointed in May 2019. It was released for publication today on the day of the funeral.

Poet Laureate Simon Armitage has written a moving elegy to the Duke of Edinburgh (pictured) as an emblem of the wartime generation whose survival was 'the stuff of minor miracle'

Poet Laureate Simon Armitage has written a moving elegy to the Duke of Edinburgh (pictured) as an emblem of the wartime generation whose survival was ‘the stuff of minor miracle’

Armitage, 57, said: ‘It’s a commemorative piece that tries to say something about the generation he came from.

‘We maybe think of Prince Philip as somebody who embodied that generation and through his passing it felt like that generation was coming to an end.

‘I didn’t know the duke but there is the idea that he didn’t like a fuss and hated sycophancy and I didn’t want the poem to be part of a chorus of sycophancy.’

The poem begins with the ‘unseasonal’ snow which fell in parts of the country on the day of the duke’s death, including around Armitage’s home in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. Armitage, pictured below, said he had spent months pondering how he might tackle this poem but the weather – and the ‘very British tendency to talk about it and find symbolism in it’ – gave him an ‘entry point’.

The first stanza goes on to call the duke’s wartime generation ‘that crew whose survival was always the stuff of minor miracle’ and he alludes to Philip’s early life. The ‘orange-crate coracles’ refer to how he was carried to safety in a cot made from an orange box after his uncle, King Constantine I, was forced to abdicate, and an 18-month-old Philip was evacuated from Greece on the British Navy ship, HMS Calypso.

There are references to Philip’s distinguished career and bravery in the Royal Navy during the Second World War with mention of ‘flaming decoy boats’ and ‘side-stepped torpedoes’.

This describes the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily when German bombers damaged Philip’s ship, HMS Wallace, in a night-time attack. Philip proposed launching a makeshift raft, equipped with smoke floats, which in the darkness fooled the German bombers into thinking they had damaged the destroyer. Comrades said his actions saved their lives.

The second stanza talks of the generation which Philip embodied as ‘husbands to duty’ – a reference both to the support he gave the Queen throughout their 73-year marriage and also a wider description of his age group’s values. He also describes the group as ‘great-grandfathers from birth’.

Armitage said: ‘It can seem from our perspective, from younger generations, that they were always natural-born great-grandfathers and were destined to be that.’

The poem also talks of the duke’s generation as the ‘last of the great avuncular magicians’ and how they ‘kept their best tricks for the grand finale: Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely’.

The honorary royal title of poet laureate, which dates back to 1668, is awarded to a poet whose work is of national significance. It is up to the individual poet to decide whether to produce poetry for national occasions or royal events.

While there is no formal obligation, Armitage said there are ‘historical expectations’.

He added: ‘I had over the last four or five months some ideas about how I might approach it but when his passing happened I threw them all out. I’m really pleased with how this poem turned out.’

Armitage said he had only met Philip ‘very fleetingly’ once at an event at Buckingham Palace.

Admirals join calls to name ship after Prince Philip 

Admirals are backing an online campaign by thousands of well-wishers for the Royal Navy to name a new ship after Prince Philip.

A petition on change.org has already received more than 14,500 signatures and last night two former Royal Navy commanders added their support. 

Rear Admiral Chris Parry and Admiral Lord West called for the introduction of an HMS Prince Philip or HMS Duke of Edinburgh as part of the Navy’s huge shipbuilding programme.

Prince Philip was associated with the Navy for eight decades and was made High Lord Admiral for his 90th birthday. 

A Navy spokesman said: ‘His distinguished service will never be forgotten.’

 



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Written by bourbiza

Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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