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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

27 May 2022

During 70 years of change, the Queen has been a constant, says Malcolm Guite

LOOKING back over my life, in my 65th year, it amazes me to think that, for as long as I have been alive and longer, our Queen has been on the throne. Amid all my ups and downs, my own crises and celebrations, my journey through the ages and stages of manhood, her reign has been a constant.

So much else has changed in those years, so much has been altered or disappeared altogether. Social trends and fashionable theories have come and gone, chasing one another’s tails, the speciously up-to-date always becoming, as it must, the pathetically dated, the once cutting-edge technologies blunted and gathering dust. Whole political dynasties have risen and fallen.

And yet, among all these fleeting changes and chances, she has given us a long, faithful, deeply covenanted continuity. I rejoice in it. Her present ministers of state have scarcely been capable of seeing that we are “godly and quietly governed”, but at least we have a Queen and governor who really does know, and faithfully show, whose minister she is.

By some miscalculation or lack of foresight, I find myself once more on the wrong side of the Atlantic as the great weekend of the Jubilee festivities arrive. I shall miss the street parties and the bunting, and, sadly, the famous trifle. I shall be in Canada, where I am sure there will be some celebration, too; but, even at a distance, I shall partake, I shall participate in heart and soul, and feel myself caught up collectively with my whole nation in a great historical moment.

I do, though, wish I could be in North Walsham for the great occasion. The June page of our kitchen calendar gives wonderful black-and-white photographs of the North Walsham market square, all strung up with flags and bunting and with long trestle tables, groaning with food, all set out for Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and the good market townsfolk and the sturdy Norfolk farmers and tradesmen all dressed in their Sunday best for the occasion. Now, their children’s children’s children’s children will be doing the same, in the same place.

But even the long continuity of this reign is, of course, no more than a brief moment of reflective stillness, a patch of calm water in the constant swirling and shifting falls and eddies in the stream of time, flowing away from us the moment we try to grasp it. “Panta rhei”, Heraclitus says: “everything flows.”

Well, not quite everything. It may be true that you cannot step into the same river twice, or even once, but there is something that “stays amidst the things that will not stay”; there is One who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, from the first moment of time to the last. He is the One from whom our own sovereign’s sovereignty ultimately derives, and, with him, in the moment we turn to him afresh, any and every moment can be jubilee.

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