Funeral Poems, Readings, Music, Quotations & Thoughts

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.



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:




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.

Venetia Digby on her Deathbed

Perhaps a corpse was not such a terrible thing in days gone by. Sometimes when there was a death in the household a painter was called to record the scene. So it was when the beautiful 33 year old Venetia, wife of  Sir Kenelm Digby was found dead by her servant one morning in 1633. The painter called was the Dutch Master Van Dyke.

It was and is rare for an otherwise healthy 33 year old to suffer a sudden and unexpected death so there has been much speculation over the years as to the cause of Venetia's death. She may have been poisoned by the exotic ingredients of quack ointments and potions she was taking both to preserve her beauty and to ward off the plague which was then in London.

Venetia Digby Deathbed

The Dulwich Picture Gallery

XVIII If Grief Could Burn Out

A short poem by Philip Larkin first published in The North Ship in 1945 with no title but the number XVIII

Philip Larkin

If grief could burn out
Like a sunken coal
The heart would rest quiet
The unrent soul
Be as still as a veil
But I have watched all night

The fire grow silent
The grey ash soft
And I stir the stubborn flint
The flames have left
And the bereft
Heart lies impotent

< 1 2 3 4 5 6 >