Funeral Poetry and Quotations (2)

 Experienced Funeral Celebrant Graduates of the International College of Celebrancy choose their favourite funeral poems and quotations. The criterion for choice is that the poem must have a classical construction but yet be totally understandable at first reading.

from The Rubaiyat of the Omar Khayyam (trans Edward Fitzgerald)

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend, Quote from the rubaiyat of the Omar Khayyam
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and — sans End!

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Alas, that Spring, should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, when, and whither flown again, who knows.

DIRGE WITHOUT MUSIC by Edna St Vincent Millay

I am not resigned
to the shutting always
of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be,
for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.
Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go;
but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, - but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen,
the honest look, the laughter, the love, -
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses.
Elegant and curled Is the blossom.
Fragrant is the blossom.
I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes
than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave,
I know.
But I do not approve.
And I am not resigned.

On the Death of my Brother by Gaius Catullus

By ways remote and distant waters sped,
Brother, to thy sad grave-side am I come,
That I may give the last gifts to the dead,
And vainly parley with thine ashes dumb:
Since she who now bestows and now denies
Hath ta'en thee, hapless brother, from mine eyes.
But lo! these gifts, the heirlooms of past years,
Are made sad things to grace thy coffin shell;
Take them, all drenched with a brother's tears,
And, brother, for all time, hail and farewell!

The valiant woman of Proverbs 31.10

Who shall find a woman of courage
and strength of character?
She is more precious than gold and jewels
Nothing money can buy compares.
The heart of her husband trusts in her
And he will never lack for anything
That a woman can give.
She does everyone good,
She never does harm.
She is consistent in goodness
All the days of her life.
She does her work in the house willingly
She shops cleverly in the markets.
She rises early, has food ready for all.
She welcomes, she is hospitable.
She is good at business,
buying and selling property
And working the farm and the garden.
Her husband is rightly proud of her
When he talks with his friends.
Her children are boastful about her
They know they are blessed.
They have all done nobly.
Charm can be deceitful.
And beauty is passing,
But the woman
who reveres the Lord
deserves praise.

Fidele's Dirge - William Shakespeare (from Cymbeline)

Fear no more the heat o' the sun,passage way into the future - trees on each side
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o' the great,
Thou art past the tyrant's stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The scepte, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan:
All lovers young, all lovers must,
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

The Tempest - revels are ended - William Shakespeare

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yes, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like the insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Bit by bit, nevertheless,
it comes over us
that we shall never again
hear the laughter of our friend,
that this one garden
is forever locked against us. 

And at that moment
begins our true mourning. 
For nothing, in truth,
can replace that companion. 

Old friends cannot be created out of hand. 
Nothing can match
the treasure of common memories,
of trials endured together,
of quarrels and reconciliations
and generous emotions.  

It is idle,
having planted an acorn in the morning,
to expect, in that very afternoon
to sit in the shade of the oak.”

Invictus - by William Ernest Henley (the title of the film about Nelson Mandela)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

Five excerpts from Lycidas - by John Milton

Editor's Note: Though often called the greatest funeral elegy in the language, Lycidas's length and dated literary language makes it suitable only in excerpts, and for rather special deceaseds and very well-educated mourners.
Still, this would give a unique quality to any funeral at which it could be used. I suggest that something might possibly be done with the following excerpts. The name Lycidas should be replaced by that of the deceased.

1. Introduction to Lycidas: (Replace Lycidas with the name of the deceased)

Yet once more, O ye laurels and once more
Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,
I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude,
And with forced fingers rude,
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.
Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear,
Compels me to disturb your season due;
For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.

2. Use these lines if for a poet or a singer:

Who would not sing for Lycidas?
He knew Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.
He must not float upon his watery bier unwept,
and welter to the parching wind,
Without the meed of some melodious tear.
Begin then, sisters of the sacred well
That from beneath the seat of Jove doth spring,
Begin, and somewhat loudly sweep the string.
Hence with denial vain, and coy excuse;

3. (Reflection on Fame)

Alas! What boots it with uncessant care
To tend the homely slighted shepherd's trade.
And strictly meditate the thankless Muse?
Were it not better done as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neaera's hair?
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious days;
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with th' abhorréd shears,
And slits the thin spun life. -But not the praise,
Phoebus replied, and touched my trembling ears;
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil Set off to th' world,
nor in broad rumor lies,
But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes,
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,

Of so much fame in Heaven expect thy meed.

4. Use these lines if for a priest or ex-priest. (shepherd = pastor)

Last came and last did go
The pilot of the Galilean lake,
Two massy keys he bore of metals twain
(The golden opes, the iron shuts amain).
He shook his mitered locks, and stern bespake: -
How well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
Enow of such as for their bellies' sake,
Creep and intrude, and climb into the fold!
Of other care they little reckoning make,
Than how to scramble at the shearer's feast,
And shove away the worthy bidden guest.

Blind mouths! That scarce themselves know
how to hold A sheep-hook,
or have learned aught else the least
That to the faithful herdman's art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they?
They are sped; And when they list,
their lean and flashy songs
Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw.
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread,
Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said.
But that two-handed engine at the door
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.

5. (The Pious Peroration)

Look homeward angel now,
and melt with ruth:
And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth.
Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor,
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new spangled ore,
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky.

 (Perhaps for a child’s funeral.) by Robert Frost

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Longing (Perhaps for a child’s or a lover’s funeral?) by Matthew Arnold

Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For then the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.

Come, as thou cam'st a thousand times,
A messenger from radiant climes,
And smile on thy new world, and be
As kind to others as to me!

Or, as thou never cam'st in sooth,
Come now, and let me dream it truth;
And part my hair, and kiss my brow,
And say: My love! why sufferest thou?

Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For then the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.

SISTER OF THE MOON (Poem, or Song for lyric soprano; Aboriginal theme) by Mark O'Connor 

I am the cousin of the crow
and sister of the moon
The ghostmen stalked
upon my land two hundred years ago.

At last my son stood in their path they spoke,
and with a thunder-clap
they killed him with a hidden stone.
They killed him with a hidden stone.

But then they camped on sacred earth
and dug the graves our spirits owned:
we knew the ghostmen were our own
returning to home ground.

We saw beneath their death-white skins
the cheek-bones of my cousin's son,
and my own father from the grave
walking in the hot sun.

I ran towards him in the day
calling above the land we own.
He spoke, and entered in my heart
to kill me with a hidden stone.
To kill me with a hidden stone.

I am the spirit of this land;
I walk in leprous white.
I am the cousin of the crow
And sister of the night.

How Did You Die? by Edmund Vance Cooke

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?

Oh, trouble's a ton, or trouble's an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it.
And it isn't the fact that you're hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?

You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what's that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It's nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there - that's disgrace.

The harder you're thrown,  why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn't the fact that you're licked that counts;
It's how did you fight and why?

And though you be done to death, what then?
If you battled the best you could;
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the critic will call it good.

Death comes with a crawl,  or comes with a pounce,
And whether he's slow or spry,
It isn't the fact that you're dead that counts,
But only, how did you die?

 How He Died by Ernest Howard Crosby

So he died for his faith. That is fine.
More than most of us do.
But stay. Can you add to that line
That he lived for it, too?

It is easy to die.
Men have died
For a wish or a whim -
From bravado or passion or pride.
Was it harder for him?

But to live; every day to live out
All the truth that he dreamt,
While his friends met his conduct with doubt,
And the world with contempt.

Was it thus he plodded ahead,
Never turning aside?
Then we’ll talk of the life he led.
Never mind how he died.

Sonnet 71 (Use this great but very personal poem only if it is very suitable!) William Shakespeare

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;
But let your love even with my life decay;
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.

Sonnet 73 (Might be used on the death of one of a deeply attached couple) William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

O Captain! My Captain! (For the death of a father?) Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearlful trip is done;
The shop has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung-- for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, eager faces turning;
Hear Captain! dear father! This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse or will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread.
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Life’s Growth from Embryo Voyage -by Mark O’Connor

Past follicle, sorter of joys, down fallopian,
pathway of fate into the humming,
the bees-nest of sperm's brief promiscuous surf,
then the one clear bell for that long monogamy, self.

In the long-prepared ark,
self throbbed against self,
awaiting the light,
and what feeds or consumes self's sweet million-celled veal.

The yolk in the amnion frail to a jolt,
packed to devour a world.

I Never Lost as Much by Emily Dickinson

I never lost as much but twice,
And that was in the sod.
Twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!

Angels, twice descending,
Reimbursed my store.
Burglar, banker, father,
I am poor once more!

I Many Times Thought by Emily Dickinson

I many times thought peace had come
When peace was far away,
As wrecked men deem they sight the land
When far at sea they stay.

And struggle slacker, but to prove,
As hopelessly as I,
That many the fictitious shores
Before the harbor lie.

Credo by Jack London

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark
should burn out in a brilliant blaze
than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor,
every atom of me in magnificent glow, 
than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls by Henry W. Longfellow

The tide rises, the tide falls, The twilight darkens, the curlew calls; Along the sea-sands damp and brown The traveler hastens toward the town, And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Darkness settles on roofs and walls, But the sea, the sea in darkness calls; The little waves, with their soft, white hands Efface the footprints in the sands, And the tide rises, the tide falls.

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls; The day returns, but nevermore Returns the traveler to the shore. And the tide rises, the tide falls.

The Abiding Remorse by (Quasi-translation by Mark O'Connor 2004)

We were two cranes, each broken-winged,
that hopped and panicked in the dust
till welded, seamless, rib to rib,
we sprang with equal, matchless strokes
to glide above the circling clouds
beyond the glance of counsellors,
perfect, alone, in company.-

So wrote the Emperor of plump Kwei Fei,
whose blood his generals poured in dust,
whose love cost him and China everything.

Despised and hobbling on the earth,
his patient brush stroked out these lines,
still unrepenting.

Editor's Note: (Note: The story of the 8th century Tang emperor Xuan Zhong and his perfumed concubine Yang Kwei Fei (or Gui Fei) is famous in China. The poem is loosely based on a couplet from the Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi's The Abiding Remorse.)

On Accepting Death by Karen Kasey Martha Vanceburg

In this biological world we can see clearly that death is a stage in the life cycle. In our human case, we cling to the precious consciousness that seems to set us apart from the rest of the natural world, and we see death with different eyes - as an ending, often cruel, and sometimes unendurable.

We do ourselves no service to make an enemy of death; it is a presence within our life, and by denying it, we deny a part of ourselves. Our deepest knowledge includes a knowledge of death. To experience loss and to grieve it are the great common experiences, and to deny them is to make ourselves less human.

We live in a beautifully balanced system in which death is a part of everything that lives. The pain of our personal loss is ours; within the greater whole, nothing is lost. Perhaps it is too much to say that we will ever understand death; the fruit of time and pain and healing is that we will come to accept it.

 For E.J. Banfield ('Beachcomber' of Dunk Island) (for a conservationist’s funeral) by Mark O'Connor

What are my strenuous weeks of visit to this man's thirty years -- his time to muse with shoals and tides pipe-lost on every log and headland, to praise the pawpaw and the pomelo swooning in drunk, bat-fossicked flowers, to plant the mangosteen and litchi. I see his hand, pressed to a rough-hewn table, turn the light nectar of a season to the honey of considered prose.

A journalist, half blind and warned of death, who hired the world's loveliest island in days when the great Reef lay nowhere on the possessable globe --he became the serene prose-singer of Coonanglebah's sands and lord of the tide-linked islands; one of a pair who bred no clan, and sought no wealth, learning through love that Aboriginal trick, to leave the land beyond their life untouched.

Book of RUTH 1: 16-17 (Suggested by Doris Nolan)

Ask me not to leave you, 
or to return from following you. 
For where you go, I will go. 
Where you lodge, I will lodge. 
Your people shall be my people 
and your God, my God. 
Where you die,
I will die  and there will I be buried. |
May the Lord do so to me,  and even more, 
If anything but death,  part you from me.

 Life Goes On by Joyce Grenfell (1910-1979)

If I should go before the rest of you, 
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone 
Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice 
But be the usual selves that I have known. 
Weep if you must,  Parting is hell, 
But life goes on,  So Sing as well.

‘A Song of Living’ by Amelia Josephine Burr

Because I have loved life,
I shall have no sorrow to die.
I have sent up my gladness on wings,
to be lost in the blue of the sky.
I have run and leaped with the rain, 
I have taken the wind to my breast. 
My cheek like a drowsy child 
to the face of the earth I have pressed.
Because I have loved life, 
I shall have no sorrow to die. 

You can Shed Tears That She is Gone (author unknown) 

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and love yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her and only that she’s gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she’d want: smile, open your eyes Love and go on.

 Traditional Gaelic Blessing: (Anon)

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields 
and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His Hand.