The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Churchill’s Funeral” is a poem in five sections. The poem begins by flashing back to London during World War II. The stained-glass windows of the great churches of London have been damaged by German bombing. The people inside the churches, or those who are seeking to rescue the victims, have been wounded, maimed, or killed. There is a curious nobility about their deaths, however, a grandeur equal to the devastated beauty of the churches. This nobility is brought to mind, years later, by the state funeral of former British prime minister Winston Churchill at St. Paul’s Cathedral in January, 1965.

The second section begins to explore the poem’s theme in depth. The innocent soul—that exempt from politics or worldly damage—has a guilty twin, involved in both giving the laws and violating them. In the third stanza of the second section, “res publica” means “public thing” in Latin (it provides the origin for the English word “republic”). “Res publica” is usually spoken of as something positive, but the poem sees it as responsible for both war and those who seek to restore peace. Toward the end of the section, the benevolent aspects of the res publica are emphasized, “fierce tea-making/ in time of war” signifying a kind of healthy respect for custom and triviality in the midst of crisis, then, even more directly, praise of the “courage and kindness” that, for no other reason than a simple dedication to what is right, kept...

(The entire section is 592 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem is written in stanzas of four lines each; the poem’s five individual sections have as few as four of these stanzas or as many as seven. There is little direct rhyme in the poem, though Hill, a master prosodist, often uses assonance or verbal echo to give his words a certain ring or to create undertones. In the last stanza, the presence of “bones” and “poppies” at the end of the second and fourth lines respectively produces a kinship of sound, in the repetition of the “-es,” that juxtaposes the bones and poppies in a way that makes the final image meaningful to the reader. The beauty of the poppies attempts to cover the horror and symbolic poverty of the bare bones, but in a sense the poppies are no more than the bones’ external manifestation. Were it not for the dead bones, there would be no need for poppies as a symbol of mourning. Hill’s verbal juxtapositions make the reader think about the underlying issues of the poem.

The poet never makes an explicit declaration of his theme, allowing the reader to piece together the poem’s overall thrust from hints and images. This being so, each image, even each word, gains more importance and seems chosen by the poet with exquisite, almost excruciating, care. Hill sometimes uses very common words, but he also includes very obscure words in his diction—words such as “lourd,” which is not in most standard English dictionaries, being the French word for “heavy.” More...

(The entire section is 474 words.)