You Were On My Freshman English Final: Poets’ Corner

I really love Westminster. Like, really love it. My research interests for grad school is somewhere in the religious Gothic architecture zone so being there yesterday was like meeting a celebrity for me. A really, really old celebrity. That’s looking pretty good for 925. Jeremy Irons narrates the English audio tour for the Abbey, and I should be more cultured and associate this famous actor with some great Shakespeare production, but to me he will always be the voice of Scar from The Lion King. 

They tell you about all the events that have happened at Westminster over the years like coronations (all of them including Elizabeth II), funerals (Diana, Princess of Wales), and weddings (Duke and Duchess of Cambridge). Guess which event I was most interested in. To their credit, the Abbey puts Will and Kate (First names like I’m friends with them. Which I am. In my dreams.) on the cover of the audio tour guide and supplies postcards of them in the gift shop. They know what sells.

I could go on and on about the different architectural features in the abbey but will skip it and just say that it was all beautiful. It was particularly interesting to see that Elizabeth I and her half sister Mary Tudor are buried together considering their relationship when they were alive. Elizabeth I seemed to have the last word though since she’s buried on top and is commemorated with a full sculpture and likeness taken from a death mask. Across from her is Mary, Queen of Scots’s grave whom Elizabeth had imprisoned and killed during her reign. Mary’s son James I of England built his mother a grave and memorial as lavish as Elizabeth’s (they’re almost the same design) but Mary’s is decorated with the Scottish thistle instead of the Tudor rose that covers Elizabeth’s.

Poets’ Corner is the final stop before they make you hand back your audio guide. Chaucer was the first to be buried there but apparently it was for some financial contribution and not in recognition of his literary work (a little hipster text called The Canterbury Tales). It started a trend so now a Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, and the composer George Handel (to name only a few) are all hanging out together. Even if they aren’t buried there, almost every significant British writer has a plaque or memorial of some kind. Here are a few more: Jane Austen (whoop whoop!), the Bronte sisters, A.E. Housman, T.S. Eliot, Lewis Carroll, and W.H. Auden. Walking around, I was grateful to my English teachers over the years who made me read poems or novels by these people. Grateful but still annoyed at having to study rhyme schemes and meter. Still waiting for that to come in handy, but I digress.

Unsurprisingly, William Shakespeare has one of the larger memorials. (He and QEI are the reason they charge so much at the entrance.) On the paper he holds are lines from Prospero’s speech at the end of “The Tempest.” Most moving (to me, at least) is that famous Shakespearean actor Lawrence Olivier is buried nearby so that is looks like Shakespeare is looking down on him. Not like in a judge-y way. More in a “Thank you for honoring my work” way. It’s lovely.

Jeremy Irons told me so.

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