Funeral Poetry And Quotations (1)

 Experienced Funeral Celebrant Graduates of the International College of Celebrancy choose their favourite funeral poems and quotations.

Funeral Blues - W.H.Auden - quoted in the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral"

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,Funeral Blues a W.H.Auden poem from the movie- Four Weddings and Funeral
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is Dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

NOONTIDE - by the Eastern poet, philosopher and artist, Kahlil Gibran.

Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness,
And I, of your longings, have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over
And it is no longer dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half-waking
Has turned to fuller day and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory
We should meet again once more
We shall speak again together
And you shall sing to me in a deeper song
And if our hands should meet in another dream
We shall build another tower in the sky.


Farewell friends, yet not farewell,
Where you are, I too, shall dwell.
I am gone beyond your face,
A moments march, a single pace.

When you come where I have stepped
You will wonder why you wept tears;
I am a simple seashell,
One out of which the pearl is gone,
The shell is nothing - leave it there;
The pearl, the soul - was all - is here.

BEAUTIFUL LIVES - by Lucille Boesken

Beautiful faces
are those that show
Deep concern for another's woe

Beautiful lips
are those that speak
Words of cheer
to the sick and weak

Beautiful hands
are those that do
Heart-warming things
the whole day through

Beautiful minds
are those that hold
Kindly thoughts for the young and old
Beautiful eyes
are those that see
Some good in humanity
Beautiful lives are those that bless
The lives of others with happiness.

from The Garden of Proserpine -Algernon Charles Swinburne

“I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow and reap:

I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be

That no man lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.”

Ithaca - C.P. Cavafy

When you start on the journey to Ithaca, Theh Journey to Ithaca near Greece
then pray the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Do not fear the Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes and the Poseidon.
You will never meet such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty,
if a fine emotion touches your body and your spirit.
You will never meet the Lestrygonians, the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon,
if you do not carry them with your soul,
if your soul does not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you.

Then pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many,
that you will enter ports seen for the first time with such pleasure, with such joy!
Stop at Phonecian markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony, and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds,
buy as many pleasurable perfumes as you can;
visit hosts of Egyptian cities,
o learn and learn from those who have knowledge.

Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for long years;
and even to anchor at the isle when you are old,
rich with all that you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you a beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have taken the road.
But she has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor,
Ithaca has not defrauded you.
- With the great wisdom you have gained,
with so much experience, you must surely
have understood by then
what the journey to Ithaca means.

Funeral Poetry - Classical 

Perhaps . . . To R. A. L.  by Vera Brittain. 19l6. From Verses of a V.A.D.

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet 
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away,

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there,

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know Again,
because my heart for loss of You Was broken, long ago.

 From Hamlet by William Shakespeare

(This reading is often suitable for the funeral of a person who has committed suicide.)

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, 
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

To die: to sleep; No more;
and, by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks 
That flesh is heir to,
’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d.

To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream:
ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come 
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?
who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of? 
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all .

Exodus by A.D.Hope

(Around the age of 90, A.D. Hope composed his own funeral instructions in verse. This one is where wants to be buried, not cremated.)

When I am dead, believe me
This is my last desire,
That gentle earth receive me
And not the lordly fire.

My mother and my father
Went through the gate of flame
But I myself would rather
Go back the way I came

Let the deep mould which bore me
Enfold me in the grave
And, as from men before me,
Take back the gifts it gave.

From The First Elegy, The Duino Elegies. by Rainer Maria Rilke

"True, it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,
to use no longer customs scarcely acquired,
not to interpret roses, and other things that promise so much,
in terms of a human future;
to be no longer all that one used to be in endlessly anxious hands,
and to lay aside even one’s proper name like a broken toy.

Strange, not to go on wishing one’s wishes.
Strange, to see all that was once relation
so loosely fluttering hither and thither in space.
And it’s hard, being dead, and full of retrieving
before one begins to perceive a little eternity. -

All of the living, though, make the mistake
of drawing too sharp distinctions.
Angels (it’s said) would be often unable to tell
whether they moved among living or dead.
The eternal torrent whirls all the ages
through either realm for ever, and sounds above their voices in both."

Bread and Music by Conrad Aitken

Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, belovèd,
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always,
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.

THE OLIVE TREE by Mark O'Connor

(A poem that uses the olive tree as a traditional symbol of civilization and endurance against destructive forces)

Nobody knows how long it takes to kill an olive.
Drought, axe, fire, are admitted failures.
Hack one down, grub out a ton of mainroot for fuel,
and next spring every side-root sends up shoots.
A great frost can leave the trees leafless for years;
they revive. Invading armies will fell them.
They return through the burnt-out ribs of siege machines.

Only the patient goat, nibbling his way down the ages,
has malice to master the olive.
Sometimes, they say, a man finds a dead orchard,
fired and goat- cropped centuries back.
He settles and fences; the stumps revive.
His grandchildren's family prosper by the arduous oil-pressing trade.
Then wars and disease wash over.
Goats return. The olives go under, waiting another age.

Their shade still lies where Socrates disputed.
Gethsemane's withered groves are bearing yet.

AUTUMN byJames McAuley (translating Rilke)

Heart, it is time. The fruitful summer yields.
The shadows fall across the figured dial,
The winds are loosed upon the harvest fields.
See that these last fruit swell upon the vine,
Grant them as yet a southern day or two
Then press them to fulfillment and pursue
The last of sweetness in the heady wine.

You shall be homeless, shall not build this year.
You shall be solitary and long alone.
Shall wake, and read, and write long letters home,
And on deserted pavements, here and there
Shall wander restless, as the leaves are blown.

The Debt Unpayable (for a serviceman/woman) Francis William Bourdillon

What have I given, Bold sailor on the sea?
In earth or heaven, That you should die for me?

What can I give, O soldier, leal and brave,
Long as I live, To pay the life you gave?

What tithe or part Can I return to thee,
O stricken heart, That thou shouldst break for me?

The wind of Death For you has slain life's flowers,
It withereth (God grant) all weeds in ours.

Eurydice - bby Francis William Bourdillon (demanding some knowledge of the classical/operatic myth of Eurydice):

HE came to call me back from death
To the bright world above.
I hear him yet with trembling breath Low calling,
“O sweet love! Come back! The earth is just as fair;
The flowers, the open skies are there;
Come back to life and love!”

Oh! all my heart went out to him,
And the sweet air above.
With happy tears my eyes were dim;
I called him, “O sweet love!
I come, for thou art all to me.
Go forth, and I will follow thee,
Right back to life and love!”

I followed through the cavern black;
I saw the blue above.
Some terror turned me to look back:
I heard him wail, “O love! What hast thou done! What hast thou done!”
And then I saw no more the sun,
And lost were life and love.

The next piece is perhaps the one major excerpt from Eliot that ought to work for a general audience. Its liturgical tones are quite appropriate, and the mysticism not too obscure.

T. S. Eliot's Little Gidding (from Four Quartets)

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well
and All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

The Astronaut About to Escape Earth (from Embryo Voyage) by Mark O'Connor 

She walked in silence enamoured of touch,
on the thin film of life that encrusts the hot planet of iron.

On garrulous buoys aloft the nervous system of the horde flickered from pole to cloudy pole.

To leave this surface we love, join the gnat-choirs, bound for Lagrangian space . . .

Seeing Ophelia's face in the freezing stream swept with euglena, ranunculus, starwort, she walks, face iced free of time and terror,  her shod foot crunching the scaly shale bric-a-brac matrix of petrified dragons and many-toothed birds (what my sister is now, that shall I be) on this slag top of the fiery furnace.

Where again to meet what we understand so little?

Aloft and smiling, she touched a key to hear the voice of that deep planet call the children of the sun.

Full and Certain hope by Samuel Butler

I fall asleep in the full and certain hope
That my slumber shall not be broken
And that though I be all forgetting
Yet shall I not be all forgotten
But continue that life in the thoughts and deeds
Of those I loved 

Funeral quote by Conan Doyle

What can be happier
than a life made beautiful
with friendship and love
and completed in honour

Old Man and Pond (poem for a biologist -- perhaps ...) by Mark O’Connor

I have waded in deep as an old man can
who is a worshipper of ponds and stars
because both are the holes
into which the dead things fall to be born again.
A numb cold seeps in my toes,
spills past the warped leather tongue,
brings a dozen ostracods and a bosminae school
to feed on the rich wool soup of my socks.
I know about ponds, how they choke on the corpse of success,
how this one soon will be a swamp so thick
that the long-toed dotterel stamps on top -
and I see the pool on this leaden day as what it is,
a cold furnace, where lives are dissolved and made.