Charles Moore Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 9 May 2009

Thirty years, almost to the day, after we greeted our first woman Prime Minister, we greet our first woman Poet Laureate.

Thirty years, almost to the day, after we greeted our first woman Prime Minister, we greet our first woman Poet Laureate. Unlike Margaret Thatcher, who was careful not to press the sex point, Carol Ann Duffy describes her own appointment as ‘a historic day for women’. She says she wants 300 years of female poet laureates, to balance the past three centuries of males. She has lots of ideas about ‘the vocation of poetry’, and wants to use the laureateship to get her fellow poets into schools, preach about how homosexuality (she is a lesbian) is ‘a lovely, ordinary thing’ etc. I fear that the post may suffer from what economists call ‘producer capture’. Miss Duffy says that in her conversations with ministers and with Buckingham Palace, ‘I was told there was no expectation that I would write royal poetry.’ Why not? The Master of the Horse does not devote his time to promoting careers in horsemanship, but to the royal horses. The Lord Chamberlain does not try to persuade people that walking backwards carrying a wand at state banquets is a ‘lovely, ordinary thing’. He does it because it is his task to serve the monarch. So it should be with the laureateship. You hear it said that it is impossible to write poetry to order, and people unkindly exclaim how hard it must be to celebrate events like the marriage of the Earl of Wessex to Sophie Rhys-Jones in verse. This assertion goes against the entire history of art, which has often depended on patronage, and frequently on glorifying royal or aristocratic personages. Rubens’s magnificent ceiling in the Banqueting House, Whitehall, for example, is a vast apotheosis of James I. Milton wrote ‘Comus’ to mark the fact that the Earl of Bridgewater had become Lord President of Wales.

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