Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, came
To bless new student housing on The Mound.
Despite his title and his royal name,
Despite the Lord Mayor following around,

The Scottish students studying nearby,
Did not step out to even take a look.
No “Huzzahs,” “Hip-Hoorays,” or “hue and cry,”
Each student feigned more interest in their book.

And yet, a few days on to great effect,
As George MacLeod walked through the dining hall,
The students stood to show their deep respect
For one whose faith and life had touched them all.

In heaven, kings and princes will bow down,
While those who served the Lord receive a crown.

.

.

James A. Tweedie is a retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He has written and published six novels, one collection of short stories, and three collections of poetry including Mostly Sonnets, all with Dunecrest Press. His poems have been published nationally and internationally in The Lyric, Poetry Salzburg (Austria) Review, California Quarterly, Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Better than Starbucks, WestWard Quarterly, Society of Classical Poets, and The Chained Muse.


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15 Responses

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    James, this well crafted, thought-provoking sonnet makes me think that those students were most certainly before their time. Graduate students at Oxford University’s Magdalen College have just voted to remove a portrait of the Queen due to concerns about it symbolizing colonialism. George MacLeod was educated at Oriel College, Oxford… I wonder if his portrait has been torn off the wall yet because he is white and Christian? I like the closing couplet, but only God can see into our hearts, and Queen Elizabeth II may well receive a crown in heaven too.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      I most certainly agree with your final thought re the Queen; And it may be that Philip has a new crown of his own as well. But only if they lay down the ones they had, first!

      It should be noted that my wife and I were living in Edinburgh at the time while I was attending the University of Edinburgh, New College (which is located on The Mound) on a post-graduate fellowship.

      It should also be noted that this poem intends no disrespect to Philip insofar as it simply records my observation of a particular event at a particular moment of historical time—when Scottish attitudes towards the self-aggrandizing political and economic power wielded by the England-dominated British Parliament and the arrogant behavior Of the increasingly dysfunctional Labour government of Jim Callaghan was viewed by most Scots as being guilty of the same charge brought by the prophet Nathan against King David in his abuse of power and privilege (where Scotland was Uriah and North Sea oil revenues were Bathsheba). The situation was so bad that within the year, and mostly out of pique, the Scottish representatives voted as a block to help bring down the government—a no-confidence vote that opened the door for the election of a Conservative majority and the appointment of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister.

      I hope this helps in understanding the context of the poem.

      Reply
      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Thank you for this, James. The Duke of Edinburgh wasn’t particularly liked by the British people – he led the Queen a bit a dance with his dalliances and his wild observations. In my opinion his worst one was that he’d “like to be reincarnated as a deadly virus as a form of revenge against human overpopulation.” It looks as if his words may well have cast a spell.

        I do, however, have much respect for the Queen. Long gone are the days of the divine right of kings, and, in spite of her wealth, I believe she’s had a tough life in the limelight and has dealt with it with the utmost dignity. She inspired and bolstered the spirits of many during WWII.

        As for James “Crisis? What crisis?” Callaghan, he made my schooldays a nightmare. Most of my homework was done by candlelight because of the power cuts. The ‘Winter of Discontent’ was dreadful. Rubbish piled up in the streets of London which was rife with rats while he holidayed abroad in oblivion.

        Thank you very much for the background, James. Thank you, too, for taking me back to the dire days of darkness in the UK… it makes sunny Texas seem even sunnier.

        I love Scotland, by the way. What a lovely place to study. I’ve spent many a holiday in the Highlands – breathtakingly beautiful and bleak. I witnessed the glory and savagery of nature in those parts.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        The only good thing about Callaghan is that he paved the path for Maggie Thatcher. And the great thing about Thatcher is that she wrecked the career of the odious fake conservative, Edward Heath.

  2. Yael

    What an interesting poem, especially with all the historical anecdotes provided in the comments, and the photos, which is very helpful for context. The last two lines are my favorite, as I like to keep looking up.

    Reply
  3. Jeff Eardley

    Mr Tweedie, this is a delight to read and a splendid observation on those times. Whenever I see parties of youngsters hauling their rucksacks over the hills near to us, on the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, I will admit to having pleasant thoughts of the old cove who was certainly a character. Tomorrow, the Scots and English once again do battle on the field of football. The local shops are piled wall-to-wall with strong lager as we Sassenachs bolt our doors and hide behind the sofa, just as we did in the Winter of 1745 when the Jacobite army payed a visit to our moorland town of Leek. I don’t know much about Bonnie Prince Charlie, but they should never have put their trust in someone named after three sheepdogs.

    Reply
  4. Peter Hartley

    James – this is indeed a well-crafted and thought-provoking poem, and those students’ treatment of the Duke of Edinburgh was ill-mannered at best, boorish at worst and childish in any event. A lot of the populist flak he has attracted, I think, has been through comments he has made publicly about, inter alios, the Chinese and Australian aborigines. These remarks, cited by the self-righteous as justifying his title as the enfant terrible of the royal family, remind me of an interdepartmental memo that I received with the rest of the staff when I was at work (many) years ago. We were told that a remark IS offensive or racist if the recipient of that remark deems it to be so. We were expected to be mind-readers. The Duke of Edinburgh’s remarks were made in what he would have intended as harmless jest, but no doubt those ignorant students would have all-too-readily taken the worst possible interpretation of the comments. “Honi soit qui mal y pense”. But in any case it will always be trendy to knock the royal family. On a completely different note, and only because the poem has reminded me, it seems such a pity to me that we have to say “Each student feigned more interest in their book”. We have been saying similar things at least as long ago as Henry Fielding in the eighteenth century. Why on earth do we still have no non-gender specific personal pronoun in the singular? I know of five different words for the little bone that juts out below the eye, and yet I cannot say “his or her” in one word unless I use the plural “their”. Liverpudlians commonly use the word “youse” when addressing more than one person. Somebody should invent a word for “his or her”. I propose “thems”. Incidentally, James, the Queen may not need to divest herself of one crown in order to wear another. The pope manages his papal crown or triple tiara without any bits of it falling off, as far as I know.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Peter,

      You misread me. The students were neither ill-mannered, boorish, or childish. They were indifferent. They simply did not care that Prince Philip was going to make a three-minute photo-op appearance just outside the library where they were studying.

      They were not expected to make an appearance. Most of them were not even aware he was going to make an appearance until I broke the library silence to announce it. Indeed, even the students living in the remodled 19th century apartment building to be dedicated did not bother to come outside, although everal of them looked out their window with some curiosity. To tell the truth–except for the Lord Mayor and a half-dozen press/news/official royal photographers, I was the only other person that showed enough interest to show up at all.

      For the poem, I took this indifference and conflated it with the negative contemporary Scottish attitude towards the English-dominated Parliament–an animus symbolized, perhaps by Prince Philip (as a non-Scot accorded the title, Duke of Edinburgh) but not necessarily directed at him personally.

      Reply
  5. Margaret Coats

    George Macleod served in many ways during his life–not least by establishing the Iona Community and restoring buildings on the holy island. I have a story about that from a Catholic priest who visited (plainclothes) on Saint Columba’s day. As he toured the place, he felt a desire to say Mass, and told one of the members of the Community. She responded that they, as an ecumenical group, were ready to help, and brought him the necessary vestments and altar furnishings. After finishing a private Mass, he waited a long time for her to come back so that he could return the items. Finally, he found another person wearing a Community T-shirt, but when he described the woman who had helped him, that person said, “There is no such member of our Community.” Anyway, without George MacLeod, the altar itself would have been a heap of rubble, but he made it possible for the world to be inspired at this sacred spot in Scotland.

    I am glad Peter Hartley mentioned the pronoun problem, but even I had forgotten what Jan Darling told us on February 19. The singular pronoun replacing “his” or “her” can be either “hirs” (pronounced “hears”) or “zirs” (rhymes with “stirs”). However, James, before you make the correction or have Mike Bryant do it, look back at the other things Jan said.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret – I ‘m afraid I knew nothing of the article or the commentary. My apologies to Jan.

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        You can find Jan’s poem by typing in her name on the search bar above “Trending Poems” at the right here. Then click the magnifying glass. You’ll get all her poems; choose the Feb. 19 one.

    • James A. Tweedie

      I accept that the use of “they” as a singular (albeit in this case a relatively collective) pronoun is grammatically incorrect by historical standards. I will also point out that language does not evolve according to the rules established by grammarians. Language is constantly changing and most of the changes in both vocabulary and usage comes from the evolving vernacular–meaning from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

      Words and usage one deemed unacceptable have frequently entered our language through popular usage. The evolution of contractions in the English language is a good example. And I would propose that many of the words cited as originating with Shakespeare were likely heard by the Bard in common speech and subsequently incorporated into his plays (“anchovy” and “bodykins/bodkins/ bodikins/” for example)–words which would have been familiar or at least recognizable to those who heard his plays for the first time.

      The use of the word “they” as I have used it in this poem, has been in the cross-hairs of grammar-snipers from all sides for many years.

      The latest edition of the Chicago Style Manual, for example, acknowledges the debate, concedes that the word “they” (and the corresponding words “their” and “them”) as a singular pronoun is increasingly used and acceptable in common, everyday, informal conversation, but–with some hesitation–the Chicago Style Manual stops short of approving it in formal composition.

      The latest editions of APA and MLA standards, however, have waved the white flag in surrender to the unwashed masses and have approved the use of the word(s) as (a) singular pronoun(s) in academic and research papers.

      Personally, in a manner similar to the point asserted by Dr. Salemi in regards to the subject of rhythmic rigidity in poetry, I have never felt constrained by such rules, especially in creative poetry where circumstances and effect frequently demand the creation of a new word, to elide a word, or to find a new way of combining words or to even occasionally abuse a word or stretch grammar and syntax to somewhere outside the box.

      I do not wish to enter into a debate as to who is right and who is wrong. I simply wish to acknowledge the issue and to warn that I have no plans to either rewrite the poem or to refrain from using the word in this way again in the future.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        And nor should you. Regarding the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit, you were there and know infinitely better than I do why your fellow-students would have acted in the way that they did and what his reaction would have been to what I could only take, were I the Duke of Edinburgh, as a gratuitous rebuff.

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