Funeral Poems, Readings, Music, Quotations & Thoughts

Comedian Frankie Boyle Chooses a Song for his Funeral

In the Guardian last Saturday

What is the closest you've ever come to death?
 - Middlesbrough.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
 - People hate jokes.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Crash Landing in the Hudson River

In the paper at the weekend was this account by a young woman who was on board flight 1549 which crash landed in the Hudson river after having its engines disabled by flying into a flock of geese:

I crash-landed in the Hudson

Everything went eerily quiet – the familiar drone of the engines had disappeared. Gripping the armrests, I said to myself, "OK, I am 27, I've never been married, but if it's my time to go, I'm OK with this." A strange peace washed over me, one I've never experienced before or since. All my life I had struggled with anxiety and had learned coping techniques, but this was different.

Flight 1549

Mummy Portraits

Mummy with Portrait

Around the first century in Egypt if you could afford a good funeral the body of the deceased was wrapped in bands to make a classic 'mummy'. It became the fashion to insert a portrait painted on wood into the mummy to show the face of the loved one as it was in life. There are around 900 of these 'mummy portraits known to have survived. Their naturalistic style seems astonishingly contemporary. They are like faces from a photographer's studio session, totally credible and totally human. People like us.

Here are just a few of these remarkable survivors.

 

 
 

Eva Cassidy's 'Over the Rainbow'

Another beautiful version of  'Over the Rainbow' by the late Eva Cassidy.

Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops...
 

Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now

There has been talk in the media about how schoolchildren used to be made to learn poetry by heart. I know I was one of them and it seems I am not the only one who finds that some of those poems have stayed with me all my life. Here for instance is a poem from A E Housman's  'A Shropshire Lad', much loved and much recited.

Ave atque vale

LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Ludovico Einaudi - I Giorni

This was chosen by a family member for a funeral recently. It was quite new to me and I have been playing it ever since.

 

Epitaphs

Strictly an epitaph is an inscription for a gravestone, but it can also mean any short verse or statement in memory of the dead. Some people write their own:

StanLaurel

 

 

If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I'll never speak to him again.

 

    — Stan Laurel

 

Spike Milligan

 

 

 

 

I told you I was ill.

    — Spike Milligan

 

'Iz' sings 'Over the Rainbow'

Israel Kamakawiwo`ole was a Hawaiian musician and a campaigner for native Hawaiian rights and Hawaiian independance. His most famous recording is this beautiful and original rendition of 'Over the Rainbow'. Iz died in 1997 aged 38 and towards the end of this video you can see footage of the scattering of his ashes from a traditional catamaran into the Pacific Ocean with thousands of fans at Mākua Beach, Hawaii.

Hail and Farewell!

There is something very comforting about traditional language and using historical readings. It reminds us that some things remain the same as they always have been. Here the Roman poet Catullus writes a short poem about the death of his brother and his journey to pay his respects at the graveside.  We feel his strong sense of the inadequacy and futility of the rituals of death and indeed of his own tears also. The final 'so Hail and Farewell' is not quite 'Hello and Goodbye then' but that meaning is certainly there.

Ave atque vale

Through foreign seas and over foreign lands,
Brother, to your sad graveside I have come
To lay the gifts of death with my own hands
And speak, too late, some last words to your dumb,
unanswering dust. Poor brother who was torn
Brutally from me by ill fortune, take
All I can give you now - these few forlorn
Offerings made for ancient custom's sake
And wet with a brother's tears. There'll be no other
Meeting; and so hail and farewell, my brother.

That is a fairly literal modern translation, but Aubrey Beardsley wrote his own florid paraphrase of this poem and this is his illustration for his his text. 'Ave Atque Vale' being the original Latin of 'Hail and Farewell'

 

"The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)" ~ The Walker Brothers

This great 1960s song was recorded by Franki Valli and by Cher but my favourite version is this one by The Walker Brothers.

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