Poet Laureate Simon Armitage publishes elegy for Prince Philip, titled ‘The Patriarchs’

The poem references the Duke’s naval career and his family life

The Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, has written a poem to mark the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.

Entitled The Patriarchs - An Elegy, the poem was published on the day of Philip's funeral on Saturday.

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It pays tribute to Philip's distinguished career in the Royal Navy, and refers to his generation as "husbands to duty" and "great-grandfathers from birth".

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 29: Queen Elizabeth II presents Simon Armitage with The Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry upon his appointment as Poet Laureate during an audience at Buckingham Palace on May 29, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jonathan Brady - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The poem describes the duke's generation as the "last of the great avuncular magicians" who "kept their best tricks for the grand finale".

In its final verse, it reads: "But for now, a cold April's closing moments / parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon / snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown."

After his family fled Greece, Philip grew up in England, and joined the navy after leaving school in May 1939.

He then enrolled at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, where he rose rapidly through the ranks, earning promotion after promotion.

At the age of 21, Philip had become one of the youngest officers in the Royal Navy to be made First Lieutenant and second-in-command of a ship.

He was appointed to the destroyer HMS Wallace, which in July 1943 was dispatched to the Mediterranean and provided cover for the Canadian beachhead of the Allied landings in Sicily.

Armitage, who was appointed laureate in 2019, has recently penned poems on lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic and the 100th anniversary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior.

Read the full elegy below.

The Patriarchs – An Elegy

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.