Funeral poems are recited at funerals or other memorial services and are a means of paying tribute to the deceased person. A funeral poem is often called an elegy, which can create confusion between this and a eulogy which is (in this context) a funeral speech. One or both may be included within the funeral program and could be combined or recited by more than one person.
Choosing Funeral Poems.
This will depend upon who you are choosing for. Many people will choose their own funeral poem while planning ahead in which case it is completely open as to what feel rights. The same is probably true if you are choosing a poem for a partner or close family member – you very possibly know a poem which is suitable. Very often a particular poem will stand out to you without you even knowing why.
If you are not sure then decide upon the tone – it does not necessarily have to be dark and sombre. Many funerals todays concentrate on celebrating life in a way that was unheard of just a few years ago which opens up new options when choosing funeral poems. However, be very aware that not everyone will share this point of view – you don’t want to be unduly upsetting other family members.
So do you want the recital to be sombre? Funny? Modern? Traditional? You may like to take a look at some of the examples below.
And of course you may even choose to make it particularly personal by either writing it yourself or asking someone you know to do it for you.
Writing Funeral Poems.
Most of what was said in the section above also applies to writing funeral poems. While these can be the most touching, emotional and personal of poems, they can also potentially be the most upsetting for others if the tone is wrong. By all means use humor if you – and the family – feel it is appropriate. Just use it with caution!
Obviously do the best you can – but remember that this is all about paying tribute to someone lost. Concentrate on the thoughts and feelings that you want to convey rather than how ‘clever’ your rhyming couplets are. In other words, pay attention to what you say as opposed to how you say it.
Reciting Funeral Poems.
As with any form of public speaking there a few points to remember:-
Practice – make sure you are happy with all aspects of the pronunciation etc. Many older poems may not be written in a form we readily understand today so read through it and ensure you understand every word. Read it aloud as many times as necessary so that it scans correctly. Practise either in front of a mirror or with the help of a friend or family member. Important – this is not to make you appear ‘professional’ but simply to make you feel as confident as possible.
Speak loudly and clearly – make sure you can be heard. You may even want to check beforehand to see if there is a microphone available – many places of service have them today. Whatever you do, don’t rush – this is more important on this occasion than with other forms of public speaking.
Additional points related particularly to reciting funeral poems or eulogies:-
Read from a copy – unless you are particularly confident don’t try to memorize the poem. This is an emotional occasion and is not the same as performing on stage or presenting to your work colleagues.
Don’t expect perfection – of course you want to do as well as you can on behalf of the person you are paying tribute to. But no-one there expects you to be word perfect so don’t expect this of yourself either. Practice so you feel confident but then just do what you can and everybody will respect you for it.
Be prepared for emotion – many a strong person has broken down in a situation such as this. You may have remained strong up till now but reading an emotional poem may change this. It is very likely that you will hear stifled sobs from those you are reciting to and this may have an unexpected effect. Prepare for this by keeping a handkerchief in your pocket. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to stop and re-compose yourself. This in no way diminishes the poem or the occasion, and there won’t be a person there who doesn’t understand.
Examples of Funeral Poems.
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep – Mary Elizabeth Frye
A Coffin – is a small Domain – Emily Dickinson
A Lament – Percy Bysshe Shelley
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night – Dylan Thomas
Funeral Blues – WH Auden
Epitaph on a Friend – Robert Burns
The Dash Poem – Linda Ellis