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The committal: Poet Laureate

Remember This

An Elegy on the death of
HM QUEEN ELIZABETH,
THE QUEEN MOTHER

By Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate

1.
Think of the failing body now
awake in its final hours although

the fizz and scythe of city wheels,
the pigeon-purrs, the way light steals

across a bedroom wall then goes,
are not the things this body knows,

held in a trance of fading light
before that dies, and gives the sight

of what it means to be set free
from self, from sense, from history.

2.
In the swirl of its pool
The home-coming salmon
has no intuition
of anything changed,
just that the silver cord of its current
is clear water running,
the lid of its sky
light soaking through light,
without any shadows
of faces or lines
to splinter its path,
and pull out of true
the course of its mind.

3.
Think of the flower-lit coffin set
in vaulted public space, in state,

so we who never knew you, but
all half-suspect we knew you, wait,

and delve inside our heads, and find
the harsh insistence in our mind

which says we're honouring a time
that simply as a fact of time

could only end, as also must
our own lives turn from dust to dust.

4.
In the grip of their season
the sky-scraping trees
continue their business
of plumping up buds
without an idea
of what it might mean
so long as leaves shoot
in the polishing breeze,
so long as leaves fall,
so long as the burden
of sunlight and dark
rolls round its O
without changing its plan
or resting its weight.

5.
Think of the standard and its blaze
the tightened focus of our gaze,

as now the coffin glides away
through London's traffic-parted day

and we, who estimate our loss
in ways particular to us,

can start to understand that here
we see our future coming clear -

our selves the same yet also changed
and questioning, and re-arranged.

6.
On the crest of their Downs
with galloping sunlight
the horses in training
know in their bones
nothing but racing,
so all they can manage
today is the beauty
of sprinting and spurting
mud-moons behind them,
the draggle of mufti
wind-burning to silk,
the unbuttoned gasp
of pleasure and longing
at what might be won.

7.
Think of the buried body laid
inside its final earthly shade,

in darkness like a solid cloud
where weight and nothing coincide,

in silence which will never break
unless real angels really speak,

while we who wait our turn live on
re-calculating what has gone -

time-tested dignity and pride
and finished work personified.

8.
In the eyes of our minds
when the country and cities
turn back to themselves
this history stays:
the four generations
which linked with your life
re-winding their span
to childhood again,
and seeing you stand
at the edge of their days,
where if they so wished
you helped give a shape
to slipstreaming time
with a wave of your hand.


Andrew Motion also wrote a poem for the Queen Mother's 100th birthday in 2001 and says the two should be read together.

Picture This

A Celebration On The One Hundredth Birthday Of
HM QUEEN ELIZABETH,
THE QUEEN MOTHER

By Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate

My dream of your birthday
is more like a wedding -
the August sky
confused with confetti,
no, not with confetti,
with photograph falls
where the steady gaze
of the century's eyes
captures your ages
unguarded or posed.

1905

Nobody heard the blackbird chink-chinking
on the level lawn but it was always there
declaiming its birthright; and nobody saw
how lichen blistering the drive had mixed
green and gold in stubborn coats-of-arms
but they clung on. The frame of everything
was Glamis with its battlements and towers,
and you side-saddle on your boxy grey
inside the moment as it froze and held:
your life your own and all the world unknown.

1914

The shutter opens and the world expands:
It's Hawtrey at the Colley for your birthday
but he can't be heard, or not heard
as he wants - outside, along St Martin's Lane,
a people-torrent runs and will not wait
to get the enemy. The show goes on.
And then goes on elsewhere, in wards
where nursing changes strangers into brothers
while your real brothers pack their bags
and leave as strangers, or else go for good.

1923

Jazz, New Look, new plunging necklaces
and snap! You're cornered in a studio
where beauty holds its own but loses edge
and makes a soft advertisement for love.
For love which finds its focus as a bride
and keeps its nerve, and sees its way,
then rides the shimmer of its own delight,
returning to the world the gift it gives
in private - tongue-tied tongue set loose,
the head confirming what the heart believes.

1937

In public; chairs into thrones, people
to subjects, and the shudder of transition
rippling through the camera's eye - his sombre face
an effigy as inescapably the crown
is lowered; your face tender with the load
it brings to bear, and what it means to hear
beyond the shooshing satins and the stone
Guernica crumbling, fire in Palestine,
and Germany again - earth groaning
as it shifts its weight and stalls in misery.

1940

THE PALACE BOMBED: then comes the blast
and choking lift that lands you where
you look East Enders in the face - not earth
exactly now but roof-spars, mud-in-shreds,
a gluey crater which was once indoors,
and you like one of us - or like enough
to make a crowd of wind-frayed kids
and peering mums, the husbands jostling
with the press-men in their burly coats,
all think you are. And thank their lucky stars.

1952

Basalt blackness at his funeral
and basalt stillness: through your veil
the fossil-face of grief, the stricken gaze
which bounces back the flash-lights to their source
but masks a working brain that sees the years
and years ahead the way an acrobat
might see a tightrope and the audience
below: the dizzy space, the camera-pops,
the swaying line between thin air and ground
and every single step borne up by company.

1960

The years wind on, the world and family
develop into colour and due season: winter
poppies, Spring in May, the grassy Ascot drive
half-summer greeting, half acknowledgement.
And everything a system made of signs: the marches
past, foundation stones, the plaques and special trees
which prove your life in ours yet make it seem
a secret too - the way a salmon swells in secret
through the currents of a pool you stand beside,
and glances at your fly, and keeps its course.

1997

No changes, on the face of it: the balconies,
the open smile and wave, the garden parties,
and the hats, the hats, the hats, all pictures
in our albums or our heads along with these:
the photos no-one took of you...
the grandmother-confessor-friend, the mourner
at divorces and the rest, the worldly watcher
of the world who shows the world no changes
on the face of it: the balconies, the open wave
and smile, the hats, the hats, the hats.

My dream of your birthday
is more like a wedding,
the August sky
confused with confetti,
and lit with the flash
of our camera-gaze -
the century's eyes
of homage and duty
which understand best
the persistence of love.
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