Poet Laureate Simon Armitage has published a poem to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Floral Tribute, which was distributed by Armitage’s publisher Faber, is a double acrostic, with two verses consisting of nine lines, the first letters of which spell Elizabeth, a nod perhaps to the funeral floral arrangements that spell the name of the deceased.
The poet refers directly to himself in the first stanza: “I have conjured a lily to light up these hours, as a sign of thanks. Armitage thanks the Queen for her gift of “a promise made and kept for life” and offers his poem as “a gift in return”.
The poet uses the metaphor of a lily – and in line 11 specifically lily of the valley, said to have been the queen’s favorite flower – to represent the poem and the queen herself. “This lily that thrives between the arrow and the tree, whose luminosity / Holds back and shines beyond the life and the border of its flowering.”
Armitage described the acrostic form as a “problem to which the poem becomes a solution”, which in this case helped him to work creatively under the pressure of time. Although there is no official job description for the Poet Laureate, he is widely expected to mark national occasions. “If you were thinking of writing a poem about the Queen, you wouldn’t automatically hit on the word ‘zeal,'” he said.
In addition to helping her “stretch [his] imagination,” the shape was also a way to “code” Queen Elizabeth’s name, Armitage said. “I was probably thinking a bit of the early Elizabethan age,” the poet explained, when poetry was often “full of little signs and signals.”
Floral Tribute is the second poem the Yorkshire-born poet has written about the Queen this year, following Queenhood, which was written to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee. Her first poem to address the royal family when she was awarded the title was The Patriarchs, a tribute to Prince Philip after his death in April 2021.
Armitage was named Poet Laureate in May 2019, becoming the sixth person to take on the role during the Queen’s reign, following Cecil Day-Lewis, John Betjeman, Ted Hughes, Andrew Motion and Carol Ann Duffy. Philip Larkin was offered the role in 1984 but declined.
The honorary post has been a role established since 1668 and was originally chosen directly by the king or queen. While the poet laureate is always officially appointed by the reigning monarch, since 1790 the prime minister has recommended the candidate for appointment. Following the dismissal of Catholic John Dryden in 1689, the title of Laureate was held by his successors for life until 1999, when Motion was appointed for a fixed term of 10 years.
In 1952, then Poet Laureate John Masefield produced just four lines to cover the death of the Queen’s father, King George VI. His hearing of the sudden death of His Majesty the King said:
Wisdom which, with infinite power,
The most total death to every creature born,
Grant us now the mercy of your light,
With comfort to the beloved queens who cry.
In addition to royal poems, Armitage wrote poems about scientific discoveries, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the coronavirus during his tenure. It also embarked on a decade-long tour of libraries across the UK. In 2021 he visited libraries whose names begin with A and B, and this year he visited those beginning with C and D. Applications are now open for the 2023 tour, which will focus on E, F and G .