Opinion  

I had not thought death had undone so many

Simoney Kyriakou

Simoney Kyriakou

'A crowd flowed over Westminster Bridge, so many; I had not thought death had undone so many'.

These slightly adapted lines from one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century never seemed so apt as they did on Thursday September 15 at the Queen's lying-in-state. 

All along the barricade outside the iconic Houses of Parliament were strewn the detritus of a very modern queue: hundreds of pots of hand sanitiser left for the next person and the next; bags of wrapped sweets to give that last-minute sugar hit to the weary.

And even in the darkness of near-midnight, hundreds were still streaming after, some in black; others in the clothes they had been wearing when they left their offices and houses and the school run and headed up to London to say farewell to the Queen.

The stands for the press, discretely placed to one end of the large hall, accommodated colleagues in silent black, the occasional shuffle of papers or the scratch of a reluctant pen the only noises. 

In the distance, the people processed in. Many were wearing medals, signs of service as they performed their last, mute duty to "The Boss".

Two NHS staff, their lanyards dangling from their tired bodies, clung to each other as they walked away from the guarded coffin. An elderly gentleman bowed, leaning on the arm of a younger man - perhaps his son; perhaps a kind stranger he met in the queue. Two young ladies grasped each others' hands as they held back their tears.

At the striking of the stone floor came the changing of the guard - a noise that drew the attention of all who gathered in that historic Westminster Hall, and resonated around the ceiling, whose vaulted beams, shaped like the upturned ark of Noah, welcomed all within this sanctuary.

Four Yeoman of the Guard; four Gentlemen at Arms and four Coldstream Guards stood vigil on the catafalque, protecting the crown, the orb, the sceptre of power that lay beside a wreath of simple white flowers on top of the shrouded coffin.

Four candles flickered in the air that moved as the people filed past, a soft light reflecting on the carved angels who have overseen these ceremonies so many times before, and danced on the frieze of lion and hart, which noiselessly whispered around the wide room of the legacy of Kings and Queens past.

Beneath their ceaseless vigil the people walked past the guarded majesty, stopping to bow or curtsey or collect their thoughts, before slowly proceeding, pausing once last time for a look at the cross, the crown, the wreath, the golden standard - symbols of the woman who lay beneath, a woman who was herself the emblem of country and Commonwealth.