Funeral Poems, Readings, Music, Quotations & Thoughts

"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.

All Things Pass ~ Lao Tzu

Lao TsuAncient words are always comforting. They remind us that loss and grief has always been part of life, part of the human condition.

In the sixth century BC the great Chinese philosopher and father of Taoism had this to say:

A sunrise does not last all morning
All things pass
A cloudburst does not last all day
All things pass
Nor a sunset all night
All things pass
What always changes?
Earth...sky...thunder... mounatin...water.... wind...fire...lake...
These change And if these do not last Do man's visions last?
Do man's illusions?

Take things as they come
All things pass

Noel Coward's last Poem

Noel Coward stayed in Jamaica with Ian Fleming in the 1940s and enjoyed his time there so much that he first bought a home there and then built himself a new house called Firefly overlooking the sea on the North Coast.Noel Coward For many years he spent the winter months in Jamaica and then stayed most of the year round as he got older.  He loved the climate and the quiet and the view out over the ocean. He wrote "I love this place, it deeply enchants me. Whatever happens to this silly world, nothing much is likely to happen here."

Coward died at Firefly in 1973. Written on a wall in the house was this last poem:

When I have fears, as Keats had fears,
Of the moment I'll cease to be,
I console myself with vanished years,
Remembered laughter, remembered tears,
And the peace of the changing sea.

And there's another good Noel Coward quip I came across recently, also very suitable for funerals:

We have no reliable guarantee that the afterlife will be any less exasperating than this one, have we?

Wordsworth on the Death of a Six Year Old

In November of 1812 William and Mary Wordsworth's third child became sick with the measles. His name was Thomas, he was just six years old and seemed to be holding up well for five days before he suddenly died on the first of December. William WordsworthThe death of a child was much more common two hundred years ago but it can hardly have been any easier to bear. This is what William wrote to his friend 

For myself dear Southey I dare not say in what state of mind I am; I loved the Boy with the utmost love of which my soul is capable, and he is taken from me - yet in the agony of my spirit in surrendering such a treasure I feel a thousand times richer than if I had never possessed it. God comfort and save you and all our friends and us all from a repetition of such trials. - O Southey feel for me!

I Wish You Were Here, Dear

Joseph Brodsky was put on trial in his native Russia for 'Social Parasitism' in the 1970s and imprisoned and sent to Siberia for hard labour for his conviction that he had a calling as a poet. He finally fled to the West and was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987. Here he reads a late poem, written in English.

 

A Song

I wish you were here, dear, I wish you were here.
I wish you sat on the sofa
and I sat near.
the handkerchief could be yours,
the tear could be mine, chin-bound.
Though it could be, of course,
the other way around.

I wish you were here, dear,
I wish you were here.
I wish we were in my car,
and you'd shift the gear.
we'd find ourselves elsewhere,
on an unknown shore.
Or else we'd repair
To where we've been before.

I wish you were here, dear,
I wish you were here.
I wish I knew no astronomy
when stars appear,
when the moon skims the water
that sighs and shifts in its slumber.
I wish it were still a quarter
to dial your number.

I wish you were here, dear,
in this hemisphere,
as I sit on the porch
sipping a beer.
It's evening, the sun is setting;
boys shout and gulls are crying.
What's the point of forgetting
If it's followed by dying?

Joseph Brodsky

The Merry Cemetery

A unique cemetery lies in the village of Sapata in Romania where a local wood carver produced about 800 colorful and celebratory oak  tombstones before his own death in 1977. They show images of the lives of the dead and sometimes images of their deaths and many have text panels describing the life of the deceased. There is no somberness here, only a great sense of joy in the lives of the ordinary people celebrated in images and poetry.

The local artist responsible for it all, Stan Ioan Pătraş created his own tomb before he died and was buried here surronded by his life's work.

Săpânța

Săpânța Cimetière Joyeux Sapanta Cemetery08

Unforgettable

Nat King Cole Died in 1965 when he was only 46 years old and his daughter Natalie was 15. In 1991 Natalie Cole recorded a duet with the voice of her long dead father - Unforgettable.

Walk On

This blog missed National Poetry Day, but I think it might have been on that day that something half heard on the radio stuck in my mind. Someone was reading what he described as a popular poem which went like this:

Hammerstein

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark.

At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark.

Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone,
You'll never walk alone

 

Of course it is Oscar Hammerstein's lyric from the 1945 musical Carousel, recorded hundreds if not thousands of times since then by too many great musicians to list but including Judy Garland, Doris Day, Bob Dylan, Jerry and the Pacemakers and Elvis Presley and adopted as an anthem by Liverpool FC supporters. For this blog however, it is a beautiful poem: short, succinct, totally accessible, evocative in so many personal ways and suprising in its familiarity. A fine uplifting final reading.

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