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royally bad poemtry

The NYT has a playful story about poet laureate Andrew Motion's task of capturing Camilla and Charles' love in verse for their wedding. The best bits are about some of the howlers poet laureates past have turned out to honor the royales (although Motion's not off the hook there either):

Mr. Motion declined to be interviewed on how his poem was coming along but said that interested parties could read it on Saturday, the day of the wedding. Since his appointment, in 1999, he has come up with royal-themed poems, praising Queen Elizabeth for "fifty years of steadiness through change," saying of Princess Margaret that she died knowing that "love and duty speak two languages," and writing, on the occasion of Prince William's 21st birthday, that:

It's a threshold, a gateway
A landmark birthday;
It's a turning of the page,
A coming of age.

In the past, royal-themed poems have rarely been considered a laureate's best work.

The great poet Ted Hughes, Mr. Motion's predecessor, once wrote a poem celebrating Prince Andrew's wedding to Sarah Ferguson in 1986 that included the lines: "A helicopter snatched you up/ The pilot, it was me." (The marriage ended in divorce.) In a poem observing the 40th anniversary of the Queen's coronation, he praised her corgis without apparent irony.

Ironic corgis would be hard to pull off. But even better:

It was even worse in the old days. Poets laureate have produced some shockingly poor work in their time, as in the case of the Edwardian laureate Alfred Austin, who, when the Prince of Wales fell ill, is said to have produced the following: "Across the wires the electric message came/ 'He is no better, he is much the same.' "

But even Austin was not ridiculed as relentlessly as Colley Cibber, who flattered and social-climbed his way into the laureateship in 1730. Alexander Pope immortalized him in a later version of his epic poem "The Dunciad," making him the King of Dunces, and an anonymous contemporary wrote, meanly:

In merry old England it once was a rule,
The King had his Poet, and also his Fool:
But now we're so frugal, I'd have you to know it,
That Cibber can serve both for Fool and for Poet.


  • At 2:37 PM , Blogger Celia said...

    Well, I don't know about ironic corgis, but they could have been euphamisms...


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