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What Is Bereavement Poetry?

By Lee Johnson
Updated May 23, 2024
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Bereavement poetry is poetry that mourns the death of a loved one, and is frequently read at funeral proceedings or written especially for them. The poems generally deal with feelings of loss and sadness experienced by people who lose somebody who is close to them. Some bereavement poetry is somber in tone, but some are uplifting. The main aim of bereavement poetry is to help the living deal with the loss of the dead, and partially to romanticize their existence.

Bereavement, or grieving, is a psychological process consisting of five key stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The length of time it takes people to advance through these stages and to ultimately accept the passing of the dead can vary greatly, and some people have great difficulty in accepting the loss of somebody close to them. Funeral services usually help to give people a time to mourn the passing of the dead and bring together the family and friends of the deceased to deal with the loss together.

Poetry is an art form by which the writer expresses emotion or attempts to capture a scene through verse. Many different types of poetry exist, from Japanese haiku, which are made up of only three lines, to epic poems such as Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Poetry does not need to rhyme, although rhyming schemes are often employed by poets as a technique. Poems can be written on virtually any topic; for example, Rudyard Kipling’s “If” is written as if spoken from father to son on the topic of becoming a man, and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is a chilling tale of a widowed man being haunted by a raven.

A common part of funeral services in the United States and other parts of the world is the reading of words of sorrow or poetry. Bereavement poetry is any poem written to mourn the loss of a loved one, regardless of the tone, style or length of the poem. Typically, however, bereavement poetry will be somber in tone, with a portion extolling the virtues of the deceased, and then moving on to the feelings of loss felt by his survivors. Other bereavement poetry focuses on helping the mourners move to an acceptance of their loss. W. H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” is a popular bereavement poem, featuring the evocative stanza: “He was my North, my South, my East and West / My working week and my Sunday rest, / My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; / I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.”

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Discussion Comments
By indigomoth — On May 01, 2012

I was asked to write a small bit of poetry for my grandmother's headstone when my family erected it one year after her death.

It was really difficult to think of something that would say in so few words how we all thought about her.

In the end I settled for "Gently she lived, gently she loved and gently does the Lord hold her."

I thought that managed to capture her personality, how much we all adored her and touched on her deep religious belief as well.

Memorial poems are really difficult to get right though and even now I think about it sometimes and wonder whether I wrote the right thing.

I guess I just wish I knew whether she would like it.

By Mor — On Apr 30, 2012

@Iluviaporos - I think that the best funeral poems are very specific because they were written for the person who died.

I can definitely see why someone might want to use a pre-written or famous poem, but I think it's much more meaningful to use a poem that was written for the person.

This isn't so much for their sake, as that I think a personal poem is much more cathartic for the people who are listening.

Sure, it probably won't be as technically brilliant as a famous poem, and it might not be very good in terms of poetry at all.

But it will touch on the things and events that are important to all the listeners. And I think that's more important.

By lluviaporos — On Apr 30, 2012

"Funeral Blues" by Auden is the poem that is read out at the funeral in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

One of my friends lost his wife to cancer and saw that movie a few months later. He told me that he thought the poem was talking directly to him and he has always remembered it as being the only time he's ever cried in a film.

I think it is one of the most perfect eulogy poems ever written as it perfectly captures the love you have for the person without being too specific about who they are. Most poems written in these circumstances are so personal they can't really be used for other people.

But "Funeral Blues" manages to strike the right balance between personal and specific so that it can appeal to anyone.

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