Sunday, November 21, 2010

Not Your Father’s Poet Laureate

     With the engagement of Prince William to Kate (now Catherine) Middleton, Buckingham Palace has received no promise from British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy of a poem to commemorate the event.  The Telegraph reports that according to the terms of her employment contract, Duffy is apparently within her rights to insist that family life in the House of Windsor is an insufficient muse.  Mysteriously appointed by the Queen herself, though apparently on the advice of disloyal ministers, Duffy is reputedly an angry critic of U.K. society and traditions.  Eighteen months after her appointment to the £5,000 per year gig, the angry poetess manifestly still resists coöptation by the Establishment.  One wonders only why such a rebel scribbler would have accepted the job in the first place.  One wonders even more why the Royal Family would have chosen her.  Poets Laureate past were able to find the courtesy and inspiration to doodle an occasional piece for their employers.  Duffy’s snub of the royal lovebirds is self-indulgent and juvenile.  The modern monarchy having submitted to constitutional restraints that effectively make the institution powerless, Duffy is free to be rude to the personification of British values.  It remains to be seen whether the sovereign British subjects will rise in defense of the institution to which they still seem attached.

     The British Crown exercises a fascination over many American conservatives.  On the one hand, conservatives who take liberty seriously are mindful of the attitude of our Founding Fathers.  American patriots fought a long war against a king to seize freedom and bequeath it to us.  We, none of us, should kneel or bow to any monarch anywhere.  On the other hand, like the British themselves, American conservatives can’t help liking Queen Elizabeth.  As a young girl she was an inspiration on radio to the British population during World War II.  She has conducted herself without fault, being the exemplar of old fashioned values conservatives tend to appreciate.  Those (and there are still a few) who cherish refinement in dress, speech, and manners remain fond of Her Majesty.  It may be that the existence of a decorous, constitutionally restrained monarch has contributed to some of the subtle differences between the U.K. and the U.S.  For instance, a television presenter in the U.K. will occasionally apologize for not knowing a word.  In the U.S., anchorpersons are more likely to apologize for a large vocabulary than a small one.

     It is likely that what Jacques Barzun calls demotic values will continue to erode refinement in both the U.K. and the U.S.  Besides, the U.K. is one unpopular monarch away from dispensing with the institution altogether.  Once they have lost enough power to be unobjectionable, kings and queens lack the authority to remain necessary.  Or to command a short piece of doggerel from the national poetaster.  For the sake of courtesy, if nothing else, one hopes the residual U.K. decency will show itself once more, perhaps in a showering of sonnets.

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