The Patriarchs – An Elegy

A poem by the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, to mark the passing of The Duke of Edinburgh.

 

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.

 

By Simon Armitage, the Poet Laureate