Republican Lupi: Alan Morrison's Wolves Come Grovelling
Friday, 14 June 2024 06:56

Republican Lupi: Alan Morrison's Wolves Come Grovelling

Published in Poetry

Alan Morrison introduces his republican poetry collection published by Culture Matters in time for the Coronation.

[Note: This article was originally published on 5 May 2023].

One of the poems towards the end of Wolves Come Grovelling, ‘Grasp the Nettle’, attempts to do as its title suggests by grappling with the thorny issue of monarchy and democracy, subjecthood and citizenship, reminding us that England was once, albeit briefly (1650-1660), a republic without a king but instead a Commoner, Oliver Cromwell, as Lord Protector.

That decade in the middle of the 17th century seems to have been airbrushed out from our royalty-dominated history. But republicanism has remained, among a significant minority, as an enduring dream of generations who have dared to imagine a true democratic society with no hereditary head of state and whose sovereignty is properly represented by Parliament, and implicitly in the People.

‘Grasp the Nettle’ picks up on the mystical symbolisms currently being reasserted in the ritual, choreography and rhetoric surrounding the Coronation of Charles Windsor, some of which disturbingly echoes the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, once fatefully invoked by Charles Stuart and which in part triggered the English Civil War, or what Marxist historians term the English Revolution (which led inexorably to the trial and execution of that monarch):

Charles Stuart invoked Divine Right of Kings
To his detriment, & lost his kingdom—
Charles Windsor summons this shadow doctrine
Of anointment by God, or its symbolism:

For his Coronation: a consecration
With chrism oil made from olives pressed in
Jerusalem spiced with neroli, rose, jasmine,
Orange blossom, amber & benzoin.

We must perhaps pinch ourselves to remember that this is 2023, and not 1623 (or thereabouts: Charles I was coronated in 1625). The monarchic institution should demonstrate a little humility in the 21st century but instead seems to be doubling down on its hubris.

Days before the Coronation, many of us across the country have been flabbergasted at a royal request that we join in unison with a ‘Homage of the People’: a pledging of allegiance to the new monarch and his heirs and successors to be said out loud, or chorused (almost like a royalist travestying of the clapping and pot-banging we were encouraged to participate in during the early days of the pandemic). This has never been done before, and certainly should not be done now—such a crypto-feudal ‘request’ is utterly anachronistic, anti-democratic, and insulting to all of us.

It seems even before Charles is crowned king, his evident take on kingship seems about as privileged, entitled and absolute as is possible in a so-called ‘parliamentary monarchy’ (though with all its royalist sycophancy most of Parliament might well be perfectly happy with it), rather than the emphasis—as was constantly assured us during the long reign of his late mother—being on ‘public service’. For surely, in the spirit of ‘public service’, Charles should have instead invoked a ‘Homage to the People’: his swearing of allegiance to his ‘subjects’ who after all subsidise his supreme privilege (through the obscenely inflated Sovereign Grant) and are, absurdly, paying for his Coronation, through our taxes.

All this combined with last-minute missives sent to anti-monarchist groups to warn of severe prison sentences should any public protests—such as Republic’s planned ‘Not My King’ demonstration by the statue of Charles I—be seen to disrupt the pomp and ceremony of the Coronation and its Union Jack-draped pageantry.

It seems then that the mask of monarchy is slipping rapidly in spite of Charles Windsor having previously been anticipated as a more modernising and progressive sovereign. But is ever more deference and subservience for a hereditarily entitled, unelected head of state really a tenable settlement even for backward-looking post-Brexit Britain?

Wolves Come Grovelling, then, is my republican response in poetry to the Coronation. The collection also contains poems on other subjects, such as Brexit, the proroguing of Parliament, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and other vicissitudes of recent years. But the overarching theme is one of republican resilience and defiance at the start of our second Carolean Age.

The Wolves of the title are the wolves of poverty as paraphrased from a speech by David Lloyd George made in 1909 at the triumph of his hugely progressive People’s Budget:

'I cannot help hoping and believing that before this generation has passed away, we shall have advanced a great step towards that good time, when poverty… will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests.'

The Grovelling we Wolves are expected to do is, well, demonstrably, symbolised in that very ‘Homage’ of blind allegiance that we have been ‘requested’ to observe, and which makes my title poem something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since I composed it last year during the Jubilee when it appeared in the Morning Star, before any of us were expecting to hear the title ‘Charles III’. I have since updated it:

Wolves Come Grovelling (Again)

Out of the forests of towns & hovelling,
Wolves of poverty, howl out in worship,
Bow to your Wolf-king, wolves come grovelling.

Forget soaring bills & the cost of living
For one weekend, spaff on wolf-fellowship,
Out of the forests of towns & hovelling.

His crowned head, minted on our pound sterling
& postage stamps, shadows our hardship—
Bow to your Wolf-king, wolves come grovelling.

Grab the bank holiday, string out the bunting,
You’re Subjects of strung-along citizenship—
Out of the forests of towns & hovelling;

It’s all just so much Cat-Rat-&-Lovelling
Of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha & kingship—
Bow to your Wolf-king, wolves come grovelling.

Mark the Coronation by volunteering
Community penance/unpaid stewardship—
Out of the forests of towns & hovelling,
Bow to your Wolf-king, wolves come grovelling.


Video by Ness Sadri


Wolves Come Grovelling can be ordered here