Britain's poet laureate is expected to commemorate the royal family's significant occasions, banging out verse for birthdays and funerals, among other, rather arduous assignments. It went without saying that the royal wedding deserved a royal poem. Thus, current laureate Carol Ann Duffy caused a kerfuffle in November when her agent revealed that she didn't want to write one. (She quickly reconsidered.)
Why the hesitation? As I've written before, writing occasional poems, especially under such pressure, isn't an easy task. Recent laureates Andrew Motion and John Betjeman both struggled to find the right tone for their royal wedding efforts.
But Duffy clearly has a knack for these things. Unlike the awkward efforts of her predecessors, she's written a genuinely good poem: a 46-line free verse piece entitled "Rings," which you can read in its entirety in The Guardian.
Why is the poem successful? Rather than struggling to find poignancy in the specific occasion, Duffy stuck to universal themes, penning a love poem that could have been intended for anyone's wedding, and surely will be recycled at ceremonies in the years to come. She keeps close to her images, presenting a sensuous list of rings: symbols overflowing with sights, sounds and touches, some quite simple, and others complex enough to recall the witty metaphors of John Donne.
or looked to twin the rings of your eyes
or added a ring to the rings of a tree
by forming a handheld circle with you, thee
The poem's structure -- a simple list of rings -- subtly leads the reader through the romantic moments of a couple's relationship before coming to rest in the present with the actual wedding ring. One could accuse Duffy, perhaps, of crossing over into sentimentality at a few points, but it is a love poem, after all, and a good one at that. One that displays none of what The Telegraph referred to as "the sycophantic tendencies of past poet laureates."
"Rings" was officially published on Friday, and was also set to the textual artwork of Stephen Raw and presented to the royal couple as a gift. You can see a copy of the poem on the artist's website, and even buy a print of the poem, here.