Simon Armitage

Queenhood by Simon Armitage

‘Queenhood’ by Simon Armitage was written to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022. It celebrates the Queen’s lifetime of service and describes the unique features of her life. 

This unique poem was written to honor the Queen’s 70th year as the monarch. It focuses primarily on the symbols of queenhood but also spends many lines alluding to the profound changes that have come over the country since the Queen came to power. Armitage attempts to capture the multi-layered nature of the Queen’s life and her roles as monarch and mother. 

Queenhood by Simon Armitage


Summary 

‘Queenhood’ by Simon Armitage is a poem that honors Queen Elizabeth’s service to the UK.

The poem begins with the speaker depicting the queen shedding her initial identity and taking on the role of the nation’s bride when she assumed the monarchy in 1952. The following stanzas depict the trappings of the monarchy, the various symbols used during her coronation, and the many changes she’s seen and experienced since she became queen. 

Although a great deal has changed, the speaker says, much has remained the same. Her grace and majesty are an essential part of who she is, as is her role as mother and “woman.” 

The poem concludes with the speaker defining queenhood through a series of symbolic metaphors and saying that after Queen Elizabeth’s death, no one will meet or surpass her.

You can read the full poem here.

Themes 

The main themes of the poem are identity and duty. The speaker spends the lines describing how these main themes make up the elements of “queenhood” as it applies to Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. When she was coronated, she became the nation’s bride, and the rest of her life was dedicated to serving the nation’s best interests. This has not changed, although a great deal around her has shifted significantly.

Message 

The central message of the poem is that although the UK, and the rest of the world, have gone through significant, unpredictable changes in the last 70 years, the Queen’s dedication to her role as monarch and love for the country has not. The poem celebrates her lifetime of service and suggests that no one will ever do what she has for the country again.

Structure and Form 

‘Queenhood’ by Simon Armitage is a seven-part poem that is divided into sections of varying lengths. Each section is marked by a roman numeral, I-VIII. The poem is written in free verse, meaning the poet did not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But this doesn’t mean that the poem is entirely without rhyme or rhythm. For example, in the first stanza, readers can find examples of half rhyme

One of the best is found in “days” and “same,” which ends the first stanza and uses the vowel sound. There are also examples of consonance in this poem that is used to take the place of end rhymes, like “fall” and “walk” at the end of stanza two. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this historical poem, the poet uses literary devices like: 

  • 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, “the age of clockwork morphs into digital days.”
  • Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words, usually in succession. One of the best examples is in stanza one when the poet uses the words “weald and wold.” 
  • Allusion: a reference to something outside the direct scope of the poem. It requires prior knowledge in order to fully understand it. This poem is built on allusions, specifically to the eccentricities of Queen Elizabeth’s life.
  • Symbolism: the use of an idea or image to represent something else. In this case, the poet uses a dress in stanza one to represent the Queen’s devotion to the country and how it composes her entire identity. 
  • Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “Queenhood” begins four lines throughout the poem and is also the title. 
  • Metaphor: a comparison between two things that do not use “like” or “as.” There are many metaphors in this poem that attempt to define queenhood. For example, the poet writes that queenhood is “law and lore, the dream life / and the documentary, a truthful fantasy.”


Detailed Analysis 

Part I

An old-fashioned word, coined in a bygone world.

It is a taking hold and a letting go,

girlhood left behind like a favourite toy,

irreversible step over invisible brink.

A new frock will be made, which is a country 

hemmed with the white lace of its shores,

and here is a vast garden of weald and wold,

mountain and fell, lake, loch, cwm.

It is constancy and it is change:

the age of clockwork morphs into digital days,

but the song of the blackbird remains the same.

The first stanza and section of the poem is made up of eleven lines. It begins by describing Queen Elizabeth’s transition from girlhood to queenhood. 

She became the queen in 1952 when her new world, symbolized by “a new frock” took a hold of her. Upon becoming the queen, she put on a new dress, or a new identity, that was entirely composed of “a country.” It was “hemmed with the white lace of its shores.” 

The poet also uses a simile in these lines, comparing the end of one’s youth to letting go of a favorite toy. The Queen had to relinquish her youthful identity to focus on her duties to the country. The phrase “weald and wold” uses unusual words.

“Weald” refers to an area of South East England between the North and South Downs. It is divided into the High and Low Wealds as well as the Greensand Ridge. The term “wold” is an elevated, treeless section of land. 

Other landscape-related words like “fell,” meaning a high and barren section of land, like a moor, as well as “lake, loch, and cwm,” are included in these lines. Lastly, a “cwm” is a Welsh term used to describe a valley. By mentioning these various parts of the landscape and using dialectic terms, like “loch,” “fell,” and “cwm,” to do so, the poet is representing the different areas of the UK. This landscape, Armitage says, is “constancy” and “change.” It remains the same in some critical aspects but changes in others, something that the Queen has become well aware of throughout her reign.

The poet concludes this first stanza with another description of how the UK has changed since Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. It’s no longer the “age of clockwork.” Today we’re in “digital days.” 

Part II

Queenhood: a long winding procession

from the abbey door to the abbey door.

(…)

But a knife’s still a knife. A fork’s still a fork.

The second part of the poem is longer, stretching to fifteen lines. The second stanza is focused on the Queen’s coronation and all of the pomp and circumstance associated with the monarchy. Queenhood, the speaker says, is a “long winding procession” that takes one from the abbey door to the abbey door, an allusion to where a queen’s reign begins and where it ends. 

There, in the church, specifically Westminster Abbey, the Queen took vows among symbols of peace and symbols of war, all representing the long history of the United Kingdom. There is a certain magic to this process, the speaker says. 

Promises are sworn for a lifetime among symbols of the monarchy that give that promise a feeling of eternity and magic. It’s something that must be done among relics of the past and outside the reality of the day (and cameras) for fear that it loses its meaning. 

The coronation of the Queen is both an undressing and a dressing; the speaker says she sheds her old life and youth and puts on the garments that represent her promise to the country. The process is filled with symbols and colors that represent queenhood and the long history of the UK, but all this is done in the real world, and during her lifetime, the Queen’s world changed significantly. 

Her lifetime included the first man on the moon and the loss and achievement of a great deal. But the fundamentals, like a fork and a knife, remain the same. Her country is still her country. 

Part III

So the emblems and signs of royalty are produced:

(…)

Love is still love is still love, and war is war.

The third part of the poem is one of the shorter sections, only six lines. It focuses on the “emblems and signs of royalty.” There is a simile in these first lines that compares the steel sword to a “sliver of deep space.” The emblems of the monarchy represent the Queen’s devotion to the country and her lifelong promise to dedicate herself to its best interest. The end of the stanza returns again to the idea of change and how it applies to the long reign of Queen Elizabeth. 

Although concepts of the monarchy have shifted, technologies have been developed, and people have changed, the poet emphasizes that “love is still love is still love” and “war is war.” Love and loss remain, as do violence and conflict.

Part IV     

And indestructible towers will atomise in a blink. 

(…)

will breach the same horizon at the given hour. 

The fourth section of the poem is also a sestet or a stanza of six lines. It focuses entirely on that which has changed and that which has not changed since Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1952. Ideas like the “God particle” have been developed, that which seemed indestructible has been destroyed, and developments in travel and technology are continuing to grow. The final two lines of the fourth stanza are their own rhyming couplet, which helps them stand out from the rest of the text.

The poet concludes the stanza by saying that although these incredibly effective things have shifted, the stars on their “heavenly tour” breach the same horizon as they did when Queen Elizabeth became the monarch and centuries before she was born. This represents the fundamentals of life and is meant to remind readers of the consistency of the Queen as a marker of British life. 

Part V

Queenhood: it is the skies, it is also the soil 

(…)

‘Multitasking’ will be canonised as a new word.

The fifth stanza is yet another sestet. It sets out to define what queenhood is. The poet uses metaphors in these lines to describe queenhood as life behind glass walls, within fortified stone fortresses; it is a connection to the skies and soil of the land, as well as all the pomp and circumstance that often disguise the heart of the matter. 

Queen and her lifetime of experiences, including “motherhood and womanhood,” are part and parcel of what she deals with daily. The poet clearly believes that what the Queen does, one could say, is the dictionary definition of “multitasking.”

Part VI

Lines 1-9

It is an honouring, but also an honour.

(…)

with a ring that makes you the nation’s bride;

The sixth stanza is the longest at sixteen lines and is the only section with two stanzas. The poet continues to use metaphors to describe what is the queen means. Being queen is an honor, but it also means honoring the history and the country. The poet describes how the Queen is at the heart of history. Historical events and objects connect her to her country, including the “orb” and “sceptre.” 

She wears a ring on her fourth finger that makes her “the nation’s bride.” This is another way the poet emphasizes how the Queen dedicates her entire life to her country, always putting it first.

The poet creates an interesting contrast as readers are asked to imagine the beauty of the monarchy as well as its more complicated features. Honoring one’s country through a lifetime of service is something to be respected, but it is also tied up with many trials and tribulations of personal life.

Lines 10-16 

and offer the white kid glove with its scrollwork tattoo

(…)

the fingerprints of a twenty-seven-year-old?

In the next few lines, the poet describes symbols of queenhood and the coronation. It brings the images to a conclusion with a depiction of the Queen’s crown, which is “jeweled with history, dense with glory.” It is owned by her as the nation’s monarch, but it’s also “loaned” to her simultaneously. The poet uses internal rhyme in the fourteenth line with the words “owned” and loaned.”

She holds a place in history that is entirely permanent. But, she is mortal like everyone else and will only live within her spot in history for a period of time.

The couplet that concludes the sixth part of the poem asks a question. In perfectly rhymed lines, the speaker asks if these historical relics that the Queen embraced during her coronation in 1952 still hold the fingerprints of who she was then at 27 years old. Seventy years have passed since her coronation, and the poet is wondering what remains of who she was when she first became queen. 

Part VII

A priceless freight for a young woman to bear,

(…)

For generations we will not know such majesty.

The poet uses another metaphor at the beginning of the seventh stanza, describing the monarchy as a “priceless freight for a young woman to bear.” But, without a choice, she walks forward into the “oncoming years,” ready to contend with all of the “sideways weather” that may make her reign more difficult.

She carries with her the metaphorical “cargoes” of the “church and state.” But, these burdens have changed over her lifetime. They are, the speaker suggests, no longer as heavy as they used to be. Her role has changed significantly, making her a figurehead and less of the country’s political leader than at the beginning of her reign. 

The final three lines of the poem define for the last time with queenhood is. It is both a dream and reality; it is drenched in the lore of history and the law of the day and a “truthful fantasy.” It is Queen Elizabeth’s reality, but, as the previous stanza suggested, it is defined by certain magic and historical importance that is hard to capture.

The final line suggests that after Queen Elizabeth’s passing, such “majesty” will not be known for “generations.” The final line indicates that the speaker feels that no one will ever meet or surpass Queen Elizabeth in importance or grace.

FAQs 

What is the purpose of ‘Queenhood?’

The purpose of this poem is to assert that although the world has changed in many fundamental ways, as has the monarchy, the Queen’s dedication and love for her country and its people have not. She’s always been there, throughout 70+ years as monarch and many more years, while her father was king before that. 

What is the tone of ‘Queenhood?’

The tone is reverential. The speaker, commonly considered to be Simon Armitage himself, describes the Queen’s duty and life with praise and gratitude. His speaker clearly respects the queen and how she has dedicated her life to the country’s well-being.

Why did Armitage write ‘Queenhood?’

Simon Armitage wrote this poem for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, celebrating her 70th year as monarch. It honors the Queen and everything she’s done as well as attempts to define what being the queen means. 

Is Simon Armitage still Poet Laureate?

Yes, Simon Armitage is the current poet laureate of the United Kingdom. He was chosen as poet laureate in 2019 and will remain in this role until 2029. Since 1999, poet laureates have served 10-year terms.


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed ‘Queenhood’ should also consider reading some other Simon Armitage poems. For example: 

  • Zoom!– describes the tiny role that humans play in the universe. 
  • Out of the Blue’ – depicts someone who suffered through the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. 
  • The Clown Punk’ – depicts a real-life event that stuck in Armitage’s mind since he was a child. 

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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