Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The reader of “Churchill’s Funeral” must first determine the poem’s stance toward Churchill and his funeral. Churchill almost single-handedly rallied the British people to resist the aggression of Nazi Germany. His funeral is therefore the end of an era as well as a recapitulatory celebration of the victory over fascism. Hill’s sketching of the damaged churches, however, implies that healing from the war will not be as total as it might seem to those who conveniently forget history in their pursuit of the pleasures of the present. Churchill’s funeral also calls to mind the end of the British Empire, which had crumbled rapidly as many of Britain’s colonies were given independence after the war. In earlier poems such as “An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England” (1978), which has a subsection entitled “A Short History of the British in India,” Hill has very subtly and ambiguously considered the theme of British imperialism, so the end of empire could certainly be an aspect of Hill’s interest in Churchill. In this light, the “last salvo of poppies” could refer not only to mourning but also to the last manifestation of traditional British valor as seen in Churchill’s attitude toward empire and war.

Hill’s interest here, though, lies less with Churchill himself than in how Churchill’s funeral provides a point of closure for the many deaths suffered in the bombing of London. Churchill’s funeral takes...

(The entire section is 438 words.)