Choosing and writing funeral poems
Funeral poems have steadily replaced religious readings in the modern British funeral.
As with the change in music, the change of words has not always been welcomed by those in the church and, it must be said, some in the funeral business.
Secular poems and readings have been used in funerals for a very long time but it was not until the early 1990s that the training and literature of the British Humanist Association firmly established such use in the practices of its officiants.
Families then rapidly took the lead by suggesting poems/readings which they had found or, increasingly, had written.
Since then, poems and readings have been an ever widening river stretching from modern prayer-poems on the one bank, to gritty reality secular on the other.
The poems are found in many places but the most usual sources are anthologies, the internet and other funerals that people have attended.
Princess Diana’s funeral
The funeral of Princess Diana did much to educate the British public on how flexible the funeral service can be, and the acceptability of mixing secular with religious.
The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, did much to educate the British public on how flexible the funeral service can be, and the acceptability of mixing the secular with the religious. It was when the modern British funeral came of age.
There were two secular readings, one by each of Diana’s sisters. Lady Sarah McCorquodale’s choice of the eight-line stanza Turn Again To Life, beginning: "If I should die and leave you here awhile ..." by the American poet, Mary Lee Hall, is now commonly selected.
Lady Jane Fellowes read a poem called Time, lyrics from the song Time Is, by David Laflamme, a Californian musician.
When Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother died, her daughter Queen Elizabeth read a poem on a TV broadcast that had been sent to her: "You can shed tears that she is gone ..." correctly titled Remember Me by David Harkins of Siloth in Cumbria. This also has become popular and transposed to be suitable for the funeral of a male gender too!
Google ’Funeral Poems’ and you get in excess of 175,000 hits. Many of these sites are listing poems and readings but often with incorrect attribution or none at all, which is not fair on the poets as many of these items are still in copyright.
Mylastsong has decided not to store poems that you could cut and paste for reading at funerals or memorial events, as this would be a breach of copyright, and gaining copyright release of so many would be an impossible task.
There are many fine modern anthologies of poems, many of which will be suitable for funerals and memorial ceremonies. Many funeral directors will also provide appropriate pieces.
Family favourites and bespoke poems
Some families have favourite poems, and these may have been read at previous family funerals. If you are thinking of having a poem read at your funeral, or that of a loved one, ask if there is a poem that has been used by earlier generations, or is a family favourite.
Think also of writing a poem yourself or commissioning a suitable memorial poem from a friend or family member. This can be risky, however, as what seems a good poem to one person can be the most dreadful slushy doggerel to another.
The best rules to follow when writing a poem for a funeral are:
- Make it short;
- Avoid sentimentality;
- Make the audience feel good, not sad.
Poems for your funeral
You might want to write a poem to be read at your own funeral, funeral reception or memorial party. This would be a very personal way to say goodbye.
The same rules apply, although if you choose it to be read at the reception or memorial party, it can be longer than at a funeral when time is limited to the time alloted at the crem or cemetery.
When you are happy with the poem, choose who would be best to read it.
Save the poem to your Lifebox, along with the instruction on who should read it at and at which event: funeral; reception or celebration party,