History, Literature

The Widow At Windsor

Oh, holy cow. It’s January 22. Exactly 120 years ago today that Queen Victoria popped her clogs breathed her last.

I don’t know why the recency of that date surprises me so much. Perhaps because so many members of my family whom I remember were alive on that date. Great Granny, who was born four years after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and who died when I was 14, was 32. She was a fearsome old bat, a product of the Victorian age, and could have given the Dowager Countess a run for her money any day of the week. I was born only 53 years after Victoria died. And now I’m 66, 13 years past the mid-point of the arc. One grandpa was eight when Victoria died, the other was twenty-five. One granny was three, the other was twenty-three.

I never could cotton much to the recent Victoria series on Masterpiece. Perhaps that’s because the portrayal of the Queen as a sweet young thing was a bit unsettling. For those of us who think of our beloved dumpy, plump, female British monarchs (Victoria, Elizabeth I, etc.) as grey haired old hags, Judi Dench is our girl–although, let’s be clear, Dame Judi was, in the early days (and I remember the early days), quite a “babe.” But even the presence of one of the men regularly voted “the sexiest actor alive,” Rufus Sewell, couldn’t rescue that series for me. (I did, however, love, lovelove, Dame Judi and the irreverent Scottish comic Billy Connolly in Mrs. Brown, a sweet little film about the widowed Victoria’s predeliction for what I’ll just call “inappropriate relationships.”) Let’s move on.

What today does, above all else, is give me an excuse to post some more poetry. And although Alfred, Lord Tennyson was Poet Laureate for a considerable portion of Victoria’s reign, I’m going with the guy who, had Tony Blair been alive at the time, he might have dubbed “The People’s Poet Laureate,” in much the same way that he dubbed Diana “The People’s Princess.”

Rudyard Kipling.

Herewith, The Widow at Windsor. It breaks my heart every time.

‘Ave you ‘eard o’ the Widow at Windsor
With a hairy gold crown on ‘er ‘ead?
She ‘as ships on the foam — she ‘as millions at ‘ome,
An’ she pays us poor beggars in red.
(Ow, poor beggars in red!)
There’s ‘er nick on the cavalry ‘orses,
There’s ‘er mark on the medical stores —
An’ ‘er troopers you’ll find with a fair wind be’ind
That takes us to various wars.
(Poor beggars! — barbarious wars!)
Then ‘ere’s to the Widow at Windsor,
An’ ‘ere’s to the stores an’ the guns,
The men an’ the ‘orses what makes up the forces
O’ Missis Victorier’s sons.
(Poor beggars! Victorier’s sons!)

Walk wide o’ the Widow at Windsor,
For ‘alf o’ Creation she owns:
We ‘ave bought ‘er the same with the sword an’ the flame,
An’ we’ve salted it down with our bones.
(Poor beggars! — it’s blue with our bones!)
Hands off o’ the sons o’ the Widow,
Hands off o’ the goods in ‘er shop,
For the Kings must come down an’ the Emperors frown
When the Widow at Windsor says “Stop”!
(Poor beggars! — we’re sent to say “Stop”!)
Then ‘ere’s to the Lodge o’ the Widow,
From the Pole to the Tropics it runs —
To the Lodge that we tile with the rank an’ the file,
An’ open in form with the guns.
(Poor beggars! — it’s always they guns!)

We ‘ave ‘eard o’ the Widow at Windsor,
It’s safest to let ‘er alone:
For ‘er sentries we stand by the sea an’ the land
Wherever the bugles are blown.
(Poor beggars! — an’ don’t we get blown!)
Take ‘old o’ the Wings o’ the Mornin’,
An’ flop round the earth till you’re dead;
But you won’t get away from the tune that they play
To the bloomin’ old rag over’ead.
(Poor beggars! — it’s ‘ot over’ead!)
Then ‘ere’s to the sons o’ the Widow,
Wherever, ‘owever they roam.
‘Ere’s all they desire, an’ if they require
A speedy return to their ‘ome.
(Poor beggars! — they’ll never see ‘ome!)

(Note to self: Glory be. I look at this photograph, posted everywhere today, of United States National Guard personnel being deployed from the States to Washington DC in gleeful fearful anticipation of an “insurrection” that wasn’t, being forced to take their rest on the concrete floors of parking garages while (I’m pretty sure) the likes of Nancy Pelosi celebrated the inauguration of Joe Biden with her specialty, and very expensive, ice-cream, and I can’t decide if I’d rather laugh, or cry. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.)

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