Funeral Poems, Readings, Music, Quotations & Thoughts

Wilko Johnson: 'Man, it makes you feel alive to be told you’re dying’

Funerals are sad affairs.  Bereavement can be a terrible blow and part of the purpose of a funeral is to provide an outlet for grief and a time for weeping and mourning.Wilko Johnson At the same time though it is a time when we need to hear something positive because we are also at a funeral to remember with joy a person's life and to look to the future with our loved ones and family around us bravely and with optimism.

Wilko Johnson has been a wonderful inspiration this year. Diagnosed with terminal cancer in January and having been told that he wouldn't see out this year  this is what he said:

The things that used to bring me down, or worry me, or annoy me, they don’t matter anymore — and that’s when you sit thinking, ‘Wow, why didn’t I work this out before? Why didn’t I work out before that it’s just the moment you’re in that matters?’ Worrying about the future or regretting the past is just a foolish waste of time....   Every little thing you see, every cold breeze against your face, every brick in the road, you think ‘I’m alive, I’m alive’ — I hope I can hang onto that. I’ve had a fantastic life....   I think anybody who asks for more would just be being greedy. I don’t wanna be greedy.”

He was back in the news this week. Now unable to play concerts but still hoping to make some public appearances, he has been talking about his family, and how moved he has been by his fans' reaction to his illness.

Stop All the Clocks

Everybody knows the beautiful poem 'Funeral Blues' by W H Auden used in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Nobody can read it as well as John Hannah did, but here it is recorded as a song by Nemo Shaw.

Her laughter was better than birds in the morning

Caroline Tandy [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsA short poem by the former poet laureate Cecil Day Lewis. I have heard it used for a man with 'her' read as 'his' and 'she' as 'he'.

Her laughter was better than birds in the morning,
Her smile turned the edge of the wind,
Her memory disarms death and charms the surly grave.
Early she went to bed, too early we
Saw her light put out; yet we could not grieve
More than a little while,
For she lives in the earth around us, laughs from the sky.

Ashes in the Wild West Wind

I recently heard the last cantos of Shelley's Ode to the West Wind used at a funeral. How wonderful the lines were with their references to death, rebirth and the scattering of words and ashes in the wind, and how perfect for cremation or for a ceremony with ashes.

By By Alfred Clint (died 1883), after Amelia Curran (died 1847), and Edward Ellerker Williams (died 1822); cropped by Beyond My Ken (talk) 07:07, 16 September 2012 (UTC) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsO wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
* * *
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither'd leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Christina Rossetti ~ Sleeping At Last

Sleeping at Last

Christina RossettiSleeping at last, the trouble and tumult over,
   Sleeping at last, the struggle and horror past,
Cold and white, out of sight of friend and of lover,
         Sleeping at last.

   No more a tired heart downcast or overcast,
No more pangs that wring or shifting fears that hover,
   Sleeping at last in a dreamless sleep locked fast.

Fast asleep.  Singing birds in their leafy cover
   Cannot wake her, nor shake her the gusty blast.
Under the purple thyme and the purple clover
         Sleeping at last.

Christina Rossetti

Robert Burns' Epitaph for a Friend

A lovely epitaph in plain language, forthright and unpretentious.

Robert Burns Scottish Poet

An honest man here lies at rest,
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm'd,
Few heads with knowledge so inform'd;
If there's another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.

 

From The Good Book

The Good Book is A. C Grayling's 'Secular Bible'. Much of it is a compendium of ancient writings from around the world. I suspect this bit is written by himself.

The Good CH II vv i, iii-iv, vii-ix
It is in the death of others that our deepest grief and greatest loss comes.
To live is to have a contract with loss. The past eludes us, and carries away what we valued;
some of those we love will surely die before we do and we will mourn them.
For this we must have courage; necessity is hard, so we must accept what is inevitable and unavoidable, and endure.
But even grief abates, and those we grieve, if they could speak, would tell us that they do not wish us to grieve for ever,
But would wish us to remember the best of them, and to return our thoughts to life and the good. And life is the endeavour of the good.
We honour them most, and cherish the memory of them best by obeying the injunction to live, and to seek the good that endures.

 

"I came like Water and like Wind I go"

In 1859 The Rubaiyat of Omar Kahayam rendered into English verse by Edward FitzGerald was published priced 5/-.William Morris Rubaiyat It attracted no attention and in 1861 the remaining copies were put in a box on the street outside the publisher's door for sale to passers by at 1d. A copy was bought by the painter and poet Rossetti who introduced it to Swinburne and William Morris. Gradually it became famous and the Rubaiyat remains today some of the best loved Victorian verse.

The Rubaiyat  is a collection of meditations on love, death, God, mortality and wine from eleventh century Persia. Here are a few verses on death and mortality that might be some comfort for a funeral.

 

XXVIII.
Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown forever dies.
XXIX.
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about; but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.
XXX.
With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour'd it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd --
"I came like Water and like Wind I go."
XXXI.
Into this Universe, and Why not knowing,
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.
XXXII.
Up from Earth's Centre through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,
And many Knots unravel'd by the Road;
But not the Master-Knot of Human Fate.
XXXIII.
There was the Door to which I found no Key:
There was the Veil through which I could not see:
Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
There was -- and then no more of Thee and Me.

 

He Was a Friend of Mine

I was talking with a family about Bob Dylan songs not long ago, for a man who had listened to Dylan since the Sixties. There were some obvious choices, but I liked best this one. I love the simplicity, sincerity and honesty  of it.

A Reading from the Quaker Tradition, William Penn

Some Fruits of Solitude by William Penn

Quakers have no creeds, no priests and no prayerbook but a wonderful tradition of tolerance, temperance and non violence. These are the words of William Penn, founder of the state of Pennsylvania, slightly rearranged to make a short reading suitable for a funeral:

Tho' Death be a Dark Passage it leads to Immortality. The truest end of Life is to know that Life never ends. And he that lives to live ever, never fears dying.

And this is the Comfort of the Good, that the grave cannot hold them, and that they live as soon as they die. For Death is no more than a Turning of us over from time to eternity.

Death then, being the Way and Condition of Life, we cannot love to live if we cannot bear to die.

Let us not cozen ourselves with the Shells and Husks of things; nor prefer Form to Power, nor Shadows to Substance. This World is a Form; our Bodies are Forms. But our Souls being of another and nobler Nature, we should seek our Rest in a more induring Habitation.

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