This beautiful poem was written as an elegy for Queen Elizabeth after her passing on September 8th, 2022. The poem references the Lily of the Valley flower, one of the Queen’s favorites. It appeared in her coronation bouquet on February 6th, 1952. Throughout, the poet uses symbolism and allusion to describe her reign and her impact on the British people and people worldwide.
Explore Floral Tribute
‘Floral Tribute’ by Simon Armitage alludes to Queen Elizabeth’s lifetime of service and expresses a country’s gratitude.
The poem begins with the speaker alluding to the day that Queen Elizabeth will pass away. It’s represented by the evening, which will eventually usurp the “determined” afternoon. The poet continues in this way, relating time and seasons to Queen Elizabeth’s life. He brings in images of a Lily of the Valley flower and connects its features to Queen Elizabeth. It’s stern and “shining,” just as she was. This provides a transition into a clear allusion to her recent passing. The speaker describes her hands as having been relieved of the weight of her reign upon her death.
In the poem’s second part, the speaker begins by saying that evening is finally here. Queen Elizabeth passed away, something that’s seen physically in the British landscape, particularly in Scotland, where she died in Balmoral castle, which is consumed by rain.
In amongst this darkness is the bright Lily of the Valley flower that is “restrained” and “forceful.” It depicts her “singular voice” that was at the heart of British life for so long. The poem concludes with an allusion to the vast impact that Queen Elizabeth had during her life and how many beyond the borders of the UK are mourning her.
You can read the full poem here.
Simon Armitage as Poet Laureate
On the occasion of the Queen’s death on September 8, 2022, the British poet laureate was Simon Armitage. He was born in 1963 and was appointed poet laureate in May 2019, a post he will hold for ten years (a tradition that began in 1999). ‘Floral Tribute’ is only one of two poems he’s written throughout his career for Queen Elizabeth. Another, ‘Queenhood,’ was penned for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022.
The primary themes of this poem are our loss and gratitude. Throughout, the poet does two things. He expresses the vast impact of Queen Elizabeth’s life and reign on the world while mourning her loss. Her death has inspired testaments to her life around the world, and, for many, her passing indicates the end of a long period in British history that will never be reclaimed.
The tone of this poem is reverential and thankful. The speaker composed the lines using symbolism to describe Queen Elizabeth’s reign, her attitude, and her lifetime of service to the British people. The speaker clearly appreciates everything she’s done for the country and, like many, is filled with sadness upon knowing that her long life has finally ended.
Structure and Form
‘Floral Tribute’ by Simon Armitage is a two-stanza poem divided into sets of nine lines. The poem is free verse, meaning the lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. For instance, the poet ends the first four lines with “afternoon,” “mist,” “thanks,” and “globes.”
Readers should take note of the fact that the poet uses anaphora at the beginning of the stanzas. This creates a feeling of progression as the first stanza describes the idea of the evening, or the death of the Queen, and the second stanza, explains that the queen has passed away and the “evening” has finally arrived.
This unique poem is also a double acrostic. This means that the first letter of each line spells out a word. In this case, each stanza spells out the name “Elizabeth.” This may be Armitage’s way of reminding readers how integral Queen Elizabeth was to British life and the identity of many British people. She was always there, even when her name was not obviously included.
Simon Armitage used several literary devices in this poem. These include:
- Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions. These are meant to trigger the readers’ senses and help them imagine a scene in great detail. For example, “Zones and auras of soft glare framing the brilliant globes.”
- Allusion: without a prior understanding of the purpose of this poem and the references it makes, it is hard to analyze it fully. Armitage uses a number of allusions, such as the reference to hands folded and death at the end of the first stanza, that connects his text to the life and passing of Queen Elizabeth.
- Symbolism: the use of an idea or image to represent something else. In this case, the poet uses evening to represent the death of Queen Elizabeth II and various flowers throughout the poem to describe his speaker’s appreciation for her.
- Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, both stanzas begin with the words “Evening will.”
Evening will come, however determined the late afternoon,
Limes and oaks in their last green flush, pearled in September mist.
I have conjured a lily to light these hours, a token of thanks,
Zones and auras of soft glare framing the brilliant globes.
In the first lines of ‘Floral Tribute,’ the speaker begins by alluding to Queen Elizabeth’s death. This poem was written after her passing, but it presents several different perspectives simultaneously.
This is seen through the poet’s use of evening to symbolize the queen’s death and, in the first stanza, his speaker’s assertion that evening “will come.” This depicts a perspective that has yet to see the passing of Queen Elizabeth but is well aware that, “however determined the late afternoon,” nothing prevents death’s coming.
The poet merges his references to time with images depicting the changing seasons. Just as a single day is moving from afternoon to night, so too is the summer ending and fall arriving. Now, in these last days of the Queen’s life, one can see (metaphorically) a mist on the “limes and oaks in their last green flush.” This is a symbol of death right around the corner as the warmth and liveliness of summer ends, and a cool, misty September begins.
The reference to September in these lines is impossible to ignore. Not only does it have a symbolic quality, but it also references the exact time of year that Queen Elizabeth died.
These hours of loss are difficult to contend with, the speaker alludes. So, he has composed images in his mind, specifically a Lily of the Valley flower, to bolster his mood. This may be Armitage’s way of describing why he chose to write this poem.
The imagined lily is a token of thanks and a light within the darkness. It represents the life of Queen Elizabeth and the gratitude that the speaker and many others feel for her service. He imagines how Queen Elizabeth’s light touches the entire globe and how it is now reflected in the words of mourning that many have already expressed.
A promise made and kept for life – that was your gift –
Hands that can rest, now, relieved of a century’s weight.
The poet alludes to Queen Elizabeth’s long life of service in line five of the stanza. She promised to dedicate her life to the British people, and she kept it. That was her “gift” to the world. In return, the speaker presents a flower, a glovewort (also known as Lilly of the Valley), made up of small white, downward-facing flowers that resemble bonnets.
This is, according to Armitage’s information on the Queen, one her favorite flowers. It continues the image of the white flower from the first lines. As each flower in the poem seems to represent Queen Elizabeth, so does the poet’s juxtaposition of the “shining bonnets” of this particular plant and its “stern lance-like leaves.” This could indicate the two parts of Queen Elizabeth’s life. She was a strong, determined presence when the country needed that and a kind grandmother figure to many, including her own family.
Queen Elizabeth had the entire country, its problems and its people, and her “slender hands.” These hands, after a century of service, can finally “rest.” On the occasion of her death, she can finally be relieved of the burden she carried her entire life.
Evening has come. Rain on the black lochs and dark Munros.
Zeal and forceful grace of its lanterns, each inflorescence
The second stanza starts in the same way that the first did. The poet uses the word evening, and this time indicates that evening has finally come. It is no longer an event to be considered for the future. Queen Elizabeth had died, and with her death came “rain on the black lochs and dark Munros.” The latter is a word used to describe any mountain over 3,000 feet high, originally used to describe specific mountains in Scotland.
The line references Scotland more generally and part of the British Isles, which meant a lot to Queen Elizabeth and where she spent a great deal of time. It’s also the location of her death. She passed away in Balmoral Castle, a large estate house in Aberdeen. It is fitting that the darkest part of the poem should be represented by rain in the Scottish landscape.
The Lily of the Valley, Armitage adds, is “almost” a namesake for the Queen. This is an allusion to a much-loved nickname she had from her childhood, “Lilibet.” It is also, he adds, a “favourite flower.” It was part of one of her most “famous bouquets,” which she held during her coronation in 1952.
The poet uses the next lines to connect the flower to the Queen through symbolism. He describes the Lily of the Valley flower as “restrained” and with a “forceful grace.” These terms are very clearly meant to reference how the Queen carried herself throughout her life.
A silent bell disguising a singular voice. A blurred new day
Holds and glows beyond the life and border of its bloom.
The poet enjambed the fourth line of the stanza, requiring readers to move on to the fifth to conclude the thought. The line describes the bells of the Lily of the Valley flower as “disguising a singular voice.” It’s also interesting to connect the word “bell” to the pomp and circumstance of the monarchy and its various triumphs and troubles. This bell disguises a singular voice at its heart–Queen Elizabeth’s.
After her death on September 8th, the next day was “blurred” by grief and confusion as many awoke to a strange new feeling. The Queen was gone, as was a staple of British life and experience. The British Isles were “uncrowned” from the public parks to the “remote peaks.” Everything changed in a moment, the speaker suggests.
In the final lines of this poem, the speaker describes why the day after Queen Elizabeth’s death was “blurred” and effective across many different landscapes and for a variety of people. He says that “everything turns” on the Lily of the Valley flower’s luminous petals and deep roots. Queen Elizabeth was such an integral part of British life, the speaker suggests, that now gone, she affects “life” far beyond the “border” of the country.
The poet uses words like “life,” “border,” and glows” to describe both a physical flower, how the flower represents Queen Elizabeth, and the reach of her influence. She was powerful, as an idea and a symbol, far beyond the borders of Great Britain.
The message is that Queen Elizabeth had a vast and multilayered impact on the world, reaching far outside the borders of the UK. She inspired millions and was loved by many more.
Simon Armitage wrote ‘Floral Tribute’ to honor Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her death. The poem is an elegy, meaning that it is written to highlight a recently deceased person’s achievements and impacts during their lifetime. Queen Elizabeth’s reach was vast; after her death, many people worldwide found themselves mourning.
The purpose is to describe Queen Elizabeth’s impact on the world, thank her for her service, and adequately express feelings of loss on the occasion of her death. The poet uses many examples of juxtaposition throughout, none more powerful than feelings of loss contrasted with the bright and shining Lily of the Valley flower.
The Lily of the Valley flower symbolizes Queen Elizabeth’s life and the many aspects of her reign as Queen of England since 1952. The flower has dueling features that Armitage described as “stern” and “shining.”
The speaker is likely meant to be Simon Armitage himself. He was appointed poet laureate of the UK in May 2019 and still held the role upon the occasion of the Queen’s death in September 2022. He will be the poet laureate until 2029.
‘Floral Tribute’ is one of the poet’s more recent poems. If you enjoyed it, consider reading some other Simon Armitage poems. They include:
- ‘A Vision’ – describes a model city, its builders, and the ideals that formed it.
- ‘Give’ – is a thought-provoking poem that confronts readers with the reality of homelessness.
- ‘Hitcher’ – is a dark poem that describes an act of violence against a hitchhiker.