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.)