Goodbye England’s Rose or Goodbye Norma Jean? Fact and fiction

Elton John at Diana's funeral

Elton John at Diana's funeral

He was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, he changed his name in 1972 and he’s Elton John now, he  turned 63 today and he’s still standing. One of the most interesting moments in his career was the re-writing of his 1973 “Candle in the Wind”  for Diana’s funeral in 1997.

I’d like to share a classroom activity with you that I do regularly with both students and teachers spotting the differences between that original “Candle in the Wind” text that he collaborated on with Bernie Taupin and the version written after Diana’s death and performed at her funeral in Westminster Abbey in 1997. It has great potential for the development of (critical) reading skills and, I think, shows how concentrating on the little words, like the pronouns, is one of the key tools in developing reading skills.

This is the original text and accompanying video on youtube.

Marilyn reading James Joyce's Ulysses

Marilyn reading James Joyce's Ulysses

Goodbye Norma Jean

Though I never knew you at all

You had the grace to hold yourself

While those around you crawled

They crawled out of the woodwork

And they whispered into your brain

They set you on the treadmill

marylinmonroeumbrellaAnd they made you change your name

And it seems to me you lived your life

Like a candle in the wind

Never knowing who to cling to

When the rain set in

Los Angeles Times front page

Los Angeles Times front page

And I would have liked to have known you

But I was just a kid

Your candle burned out long before

Your legend ever did

Loneliness was tough

The toughest role you ever played

Hollywood created a superstar

And pain was the price you paid

Even when you died

Oh the press still hounded you

All the papers had to say

Was that Marilyn was found in the nude

Goodbye Norma Jean

From the young man in the 22nd row

Who sees you as something as more than sexual

More than just our Marilyn Monroe

Elton John and Bernie Taupin  1973

And this is the changed text and the song on youtube performed in Westminster Abbey:


Goodbye England’s rose
May you ever grow in our hearts.
You were the grace that placed itself
Where lives were torn apart.

You called out to our country,
And you whispered to those in pain.
Now you belong to heaven,
And the stars spell out your name.

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind:
Never fading with the sunset
When the rain set in.
And your footsteps will always fall here,
Among England’s greenest hills;

The Malvern Hills, where Elgar was born, one of Diana's favourite composers

The Malvern Hills, where Elgar was born, one of Diana's favourite composers

Your candle’s burned out long before
Your legend ever will.


Loveliness we’ve lost;
These empty days without your smile.
This torch we’ll always carry
For our nation’s golden child.
And even though we try,
The truth brings us to tears;
All our words cannot express
The joy you brought us through the years

Goodbye England’s rose,

From a country lost without your soul,
Who’ll miss the wings of your compassion
More than you’ll ever know

Elton John and Bernie Taupin 1997

Echoes of  Blake’s Jerusalem

This is Billy Bragg’s version with a video with contemporary references to Englishness and an English parliament.



And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
DARK_SATANIC_MILLSAmong those dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear!
O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight.
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green and pleasant land.

Practical classroom activities

TASK 1 Cut up  bits of the two songs and separate them into the two songs. How many bits might depend on the level of your students. Play one of the songs afterwards to check how students have managed to do the task.

TASK 2: Write down all the pronouns in both songs and identify who they refer to.

TASK 3: Write down all the words in the two songs that can be related to any particular lexical field. Religion and Nation are two important lexical chains which can be traced through the 1997 version

TASK 4: Which of the words of the original song would have been appropriate in the 1997 version but were left out for some curious reason?

TASK 5: Compare the 1997 version with Jerusalem. What similarities can you find?

TASK 6: What might the  function of the 1997 version have been?

With teachers I have discussed how these tasks develop students’ reading skills.  Comparison of similar texts but not the same  in reading activities in ELT is potentially rich source of discussion.  Much can be got out of comparing these two songs on many levels. If any one tries anything out please let me know. And Happy Birthday Elton, you are one of our pop icons and you’ve written some fabulous songs but Candle in the Wind 1973 says a lot more about Marilyn than Candle in the Wind 1997 says about Diana, doesn’t it?

4 thoughts on “Goodbye England’s Rose or Goodbye Norma Jean? Fact and fiction

  1. I proudly share the birth date with Elton John, and I was / am a Princess Diana fan, I feel obliged to respond to your post, Mark 🙂
    I’ve done this exercise on one of your teacher-training courses. Interesting and thought-provoking – I liked it.
    Thanks for the post, really!

  2. Great to hear from you Maja and happy birthday. Glad you liked comparing the two songs, there’s so much that can be got out of it, I think and Diana is always interesting to talk about. When she died I remember looking at lot at her life and Elizabeth Empress of Austria and Hungary who had a similarly dreadful death. They were both estranged from their husbands and they both suffered eating disorders. Hope to be back in Belgrade soon!

  3. Pingback: We, us, our, the nation Osama Bin Laden or a celebration of Americanness | Classrooms on the Danube: An exploration of the quality of classroom life.

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