At the Gate of the Year

This is the poem King George quoted in his Christmas Day broadcast 1950

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’

And he replied,
‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!’

So I went forth and finding the Hand of God
Trod gladly into the night
He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.

So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?

In all the dizzy strife of things
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention.”

by Minnie Louise Harkins 1875-1957


I remember vividly King George VI’s last Christmas broadcast. He’s the king of the “King’s Speech”. He finished by reading the poem, “I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, give my a light that I may tread safely into the unknown…”  A few weeks later he was dead. I was in class when the headmaster, robed in full academic dress, enrtered. We stood. He simply said, “The King is dead. Long live the Queen”. We filed out in silence. Only somber music was playing on the BBC. The whole world seemed silent and sombre on that February day.

In the intervening years the Royal Family often symbolized for us the upheavals in contemporary life, as if they experienced for us the confusions of the social and sexual revolution which followed. King George’s death seemed to draw a line on the past, although in truth years past until a succession of royals broke up, divorced and their lives were exposed to an unrelenting media blitz. Some blamed them for all that happened, as if the symbols of the nation’s reality should be above that reality. Through it all the Queen and her consort did indeed mirror the ideal of happy marriage. Some of us grieved for them and for the children whose lives were shaped by the confusions of a world tasting a new freedom in its liberating and destructive fervor.

And now the grandson, heir to the throne marries a young lady whose ancestors, like my own, include north country coalminers; a tough and steady breed. I am heartened by that bloodline. While in college I visited Durham miner’s homes on the walls of which were displayed portraits of Keir Hardy, the Labour patriarch and Her Majesty the Queen. Miners were often the downtrodden sector of British society, particularly before the Second World War. Yet their tough and dangerous lives sparkled with amateur dramatics, choral societies, brass bands, “the Workers’ Educational Society, the Coop, and all sorts of mutual help and care. Many in that generation sought to break free. One was my mother, who despite a lack of formal education managed to get admitted to a teaching hospital and became a nurse. Another daughter of my Yorkshire grandfather became a formidable teacher. Kate’s maternal grandparents showed a similar grit.

As differing forms of modern democracy creak and groan under the pressures of a changing world, and politicians slide into general disrepute, still the grandson of a Queen and the granddaughter of working stock inspire imagination and hope and the good wishes of millions.

The Established English Church plays its part. Fewer attend its services just as few wrap themselves in royalist patriotism in our cynical world, interpreted by an even more cynical media. And yet, for a few moments next Friday something of the magic of former days revives as a buffeted Archbishop of Canterbury blesses the union of future sovereigns. I hope and pray that the magic will run deep for a few hours and that many challenged by the hopes and disappointments of our troubled world will find a new courage from William and Catherine as they give their lives anew to each other and to the God whose Son is Risen and makes all things new.