Monday 14 September 2015

Poetry: A Royal Question

Editorial note: In this poem, Chengde talks at one level about the Queen of England, a topic of perennial interest to the English and the social media - but evidently of rather limited 'philosophical' interest. However, we feel he uses the theme to explore deeper and and more subtle issues. Is he making a very contemporary point about the relationship of parents and children – and how economic power can lie (stay) with the parents even in old age?

A poem by Chengde Chen 

A Royal Question

With Her Majesty’s 90th birthday approaching,
Britain can’t help asking an inconvenient question:
why still no sign of abdication?
Apart from anything else, won’t the 68-year-old future king
become too old for his future?
It is said that there are two reasons for her persisting.

One, it’s a British tradition that the monarch doesn’t retire.
Two, she made her vow in her coronation to serve for life.
Yet, how does she see her heir apparent’s situation?
Isn’t a mother’s devotion an instinctive “tradition” and “vow”?
If a ceremonial title weighs more than her son’s happiness,
hasn’t wearing the crown exhausted her motherhood?

To succeed to the throne is a prince’s natural desire,
much as students want to graduate or fledglings want to fly.
The humiliation of the long wait, the grey hair from restraint:
wouldn’t the mother have seen and understood?
She can pretend not to have, or choose to ignore them, but
can she ignore the resentment growing in his heart?

If he is waiting for, or even longing for, his mother’s…,
what would this mean to her?
The soul-stirring succession stories that happened in history
–the internal strife, the murderous fighting with drawn swords–
are the logical development of prince psychology.
To keep the throne, or the son, that is the question.


Chengde Chen is the author of Five Themes of Today: philosophical poems. Readers can find out more about Chengde and his poems here


docmartincohen said...

The photo seems to add a suitably funereal flavour...

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

It is an evocative poem. Chengde is a master of verse.

But is it philosophy?

* There are assumptions about personal motives, which would seem to be gracious and favourable to none. Are they appropriate to philosophy?
* There are implicit values of title and ambition, which are empty in themselves. Are they opened up to any kind of philosophical reflection?
* There would seem to be a tired modernist narrative, which seeks to eliminate the caprice of edict, fate, and death which is monarchy, and the life which we know.
* Is the poem falsifiable? It would appear that it may be applied just as easily to (for example) democracy or communism as to constitutional monarchy.
* What really disturbs me is the emphasis on human dynamics, at the expense of the sacredness of tradition and vow. In the Hebrew Prophets, there was a king named Abimelech, whose genocidal reign was born with the words: "Remember that I am your bone and your flesh."

docmartincohen said...

Thomas, philoophy is 'love of wisedom' here rather than any more narrow ,written definition you may have in mind. I think there is a lot of philosophy in this sense both in what Chengde says - and in what he may prompts us to think about.

As far as the monarchy goes - the health of the institutin would be greatly promoted if holders of the post graciously stepped down and allowed their children to renew it. There seems to be a most ridiculous 'fear' of Charles as King - as though he could really do much! Harmless things like his views on conservation for example, are held against him...

So, I think a good monarchist would share concerns at the strategy of denying the transfer to the last bitterest moment. (I don't know of any 'tradition' that insists on this, actually... you'd have to argue that one to me...)

Myself, I do not like the institution. I consider it part of a terribly pervasive British class system which consigns most people to second rate careers and second rate lives - myself included.Certainly the class sytem has been clever to hide itself in meritocratic clothes, but it is absolutely rigid. Just try suggesting an article to the newspapers - and you'll see that the eleite are fullyin control and making sure that new ideas - like those this site exists to give a tiny, tiny bit of air and space to, are supressed.

But philosophy is above all about debate and I appreciate your sharing your perspective. I've no doubt Chengde will too.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Posted on behalf of Chengde Chen, from China:

I'm not a royalist nor a republican, whichever way or how it would conduct wouldn’t bother me much. I only wanted to point out a contradiction in the current practice itself, which is obvious, and would have long been pointed out if it was in other circumstances, but it is evaded because it's a royal matter. This may reflect certain subconscious of the subjects. Philosophy for me is more of a tool that allows one to see things from unconventional angles, or dare to argue them – behind the shield of logic.

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