Funeral Poems, Readings, Music, Quotations & Thoughts

Helen Thomas's Farewell to Edward

A funeral is always a farewell and a parting. Inevitably we often hope to be reunited and we hope sometime to have a better understanding of life and all it's confusion and memories. In 1917 Helen Thomas saw her husband Edward, father of her two children off to the war in France. the letter she wrote him contained these words. She was never to see him again. Her letter was in his pocket when he was killed.

My darling, my own soul, I know that this pain will go and calm and even happiness come again, just as this snow will melt and let the Spring come, for the earth is life moving all the time and in our souls love is eternal. And that's all that matters. All that matters is that we love each other and that sooner or later we shall understand as we cannot understand now.

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!

It isn’t always easy to find the words at a funeral, but the right words mean a lot to a family. We used these words as a short reading for a man who would never have said he wanted poetry at his funeral, and they spoke of happy memories, times spent with his friends and trips to Twickenham with his sons.

And of course it is a beautiful song about death, about an end to suffering and facing death with the hope of being reunited.

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see?
(Coming for to carry me home)
I saw a band of angels coming after me
(Coming for to carry me home)

If you get back to heaven before I do
(Coming for to carry me home)
You'll tell all my friends, I'll be coming there too
(Coming for to carry me home)

The song has been recorded many times, notably by Johnny Cash and by Eta James but this is the version I like the best:

Dido's Lament

The Aria is from Henry Purcell's early English Opera of 1689. Dido Queen of Carthage laments the departure of her Trojan lover Aeneas and resolves to die. She sings

When I am laid, am laid in earth, May my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

It is the saddest and most beautiful song, but opera isn't to everyone's taste. I am really enjoying this version sung by Alison Moyet.

Mother

Edgar Guest wrote some 11,000 poems in his life,Edgar Guest 1935 published in newspapers and books and heard on his radio shows. He was a popular poet, never a literary one, much loved in America where he lived and in England where he was born.

Some people find his writing sentimental but I love the plain language and the memorability of his verses. He voices what we all feel, without pretension and when it comes to funerals we need words to express the simple and profound feelings we share.

Mother

Never a sigh for the cares that she bore for me
Never a thought of the joys that flew by;
Her one regret that she couldn't do more for me,
Thoughtless and selfish, her Master was I.

Oh, the long nights that she came at my call to me!
Oh, the soft touch of her hands on my brow!
Oh, the long years that she gave up her all to me!
Oh, how I yearn for her gentleness now!

Slave to her baby! Yes, that was the way of her,
Counting her greatest of services small;
Words cannot tell what this old heart would say of her,
Mother -- the sweetest and fairest of all.

Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen

Leonard Cohen's beautiful message to his lifelong love Marianne Ihlen, sent as she was dying last year touched many people. He wrote:

Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.  And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.

His words proved prophetic because Cohen himself died a few months later in November. I was impressed with the words his old friend Robert Kory used in his eulogy:

For those of you whom he knew intimately, he would want you to be secure in the knowledge of his profound and lasting love, even though in some cases it “might have all gone wrong,” even though “love is not a victory march”, even though it is often only a “broken Hallelujah.”

Time (for Katrina's Sundial)

A lovely short reading by the American writer Henry Van Dyke.Portrait of Henry van Dyke People may remember that it was read at the funeral of Princess Diana by her sister.

Van Dyke visited England at the turn of the century and later published a short account of a day's journey from Watchet to Bridgwater by horse and trap, admiring the Quantocks and the coastal villages and stopping to see Alfoxton House and Coleridge's Cottage. It was published in 1907 as Among the Quantock Hills in  Days Off and Other DigressionsSo there is a local connection, although tenuous.

Time

Time is too slow for those who wait,
Too swift for those who fear,
Too long for those who grieve,
Too short for those who rejoice,
But for those who love, time is
Eternity

 

 

Aisholt in the Thankful Villages

A short video for Darren Hayman's Thankful Villages project featuring me reading a poem by Dollie Radford titled In the Quantock Hills.

A Thankful Village is a settlement where every soldier returned alive from the Great War.

Aisholt in Darren Hayman's Thankful Villages

Dust if You Must

Really enjoyed this funny poem about life, death and housework. Home Truths I think.

Dust if you must,
but it might be better,
to paint a picture or write a letter,
to bake a cake or plant a seed,
to ponder the gap between want and need.

Dust if you must,
but theres not much time,
with rivers to swim and mountains to climb,
music to hear and books to read,
friends to cherish and life to lead,

Dust if you must,
but the worlds out there,
with sun in your eyes and wind in your hair,
a flutter of snow a show of rain,
this day will NOT come around again

Dust if you must,
but bare in mind,
old age will come and it mightn’t be kind,
and when you go, and go you must,
YOU, yourself will make more dust!

(Author Rose Milligan 1998)

Paul O'Grady Speaking at Cilla's Funeral

We can't all have showbiz friends to speak at our funerals. But we can certainly hope that our friends will remember us with a smile, speak of us with laughter and that thoughts of us will still bring them joy when we are gone.

I love the affection and sincerity with which Paul remembers Cilla. It's intimate and moving. Lovely.

More Meditations from the Quaker Tradition

William Penn.png

Another short extract from the writings of the great Quaker William Penn, founder of the State of Pennsylvania.

They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.

Death cannot kill what never dies. Nor can spirits ever be divided, that love and live in the same divine principle, the root and record of their friendship.

If absence be not death, neither is theirs. Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure.

This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.

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