I, Michael Norton SCHMIDT, swear by Almighty God that, on becoming a British Citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second her Heirs and Successors according to the law.
I signed last week with a mixture of emotions. First, I like the language of the declaration. Capital letters evoke the late 17th century. By omitting a comma between "Elizabeth the Second" and "Heirs and Successors" the syntax enacts the uninterrupted continuity of the Crown. My German surname doesn't look any more out of place than Battenburg must have done. A tinge of disappointment, perhaps, in becoming a Citizen rather than a Subject.
When I renounced my American citizenship back in 1968 I kissed goodbye to a birthright. I was unprepared to travel to South-East Asia in uniform. For able-bodied young men (the middle-aged are fortunate) the fact of nationality entails certain duties, one of which is to answer when called up. I was born in Mexico and enjoyed dual nationality. I unpledged allegiance to the Stars and Stripes and the Republic for which it stands. My service in the Mexican army was brief and did not involve foreign travel. Now I will enjoy dual nationality once more, and both my passports are chosen, the first for convenience, this new one for other reasons. After more than three decades in England I am in some respects indistinguishable from an Englishman. What changes will the new passport usher in? On holidays I will go through the same channel as my children and not imagine their abduction while I struggle in a queue of awkwardly differentiated people. I will be able to vote. And I will still be Mexican when it suits me. A university colleague asked me what advantages I got from becoming British, beyond security of residence and the vote. Why hadn't I done it long ago. I could have set the wheels in motion any time these last 22 years. Was it New Labour, was I responding to the new dawn? Certainly not. Were there tax advantages? What, in Britain? Had I got my eye on a peerage? No. After Lord Bragg and his new coiffure, the Lords are surely doomed if not to extinction, then to an even more painful fate. On reflection, I think I took the plunge because I wrote a book. The book is a history of poetry in English, starting in the 14th century and concluding today - tomorrow, in fact, since I discuss some poems not yet published. The history opens in one Plague and ends in another; opens in England and ends in the Antipodes. Preparing it, rereading our - I can now say our - poetry, from these islands and the rest of the world, I felt a need for the certified belonging that comes from "being faithful and bearing true allegiance". Twenty years ago this need was partly satisfied by belonging to the Anglican communion, central to the history of our literature as to our larger identity. That institution is now so attenuated, has forgotten its own roots and its own resources so decisively, that "belonging" is almost meaningless in cultural terms and not particularly resonant in spiritual terms. The current Bishop of York regards the contemporary church as pedestrian. It has sold (or given away) much of its birthright for a mess of ecumenical pottage. I wish it were pedestrian: in most cities it seems to minister to the internal combustion engine. Why would a literature, and more narrowly a poetry, induce anyone to change nationality? Can this seemingly sentimental decision be explained? It has, I think, more to do with a sense of family than of nation. When I came to England in the 1960s on an exchange to Christ's Hospital School, it was primarily because I loved Coleridge and he was an Old Blue. He was the catalyst, even though the school had relocated since his time. Wearing the long blue coat, britches, bands and yellow stockings was not an exercise in a year's cross- dressing but the privilege of living, at least in part, in a fascinating continuum which included George Peele in the 16th century, Coleridge's friend Charles Lamb, and a poet who has become one of my favourite writers, Keith Douglas. …