November 21, 2010

Poems and Readings for Funerals

Of all the books I would have never thought I'd buy, this one might head the list. But in the last two sad weeks since Marj died, I've done a lot of thinking about what one says at a time like this. Among the things that were said, I could relate best to the poem Daryl read at the wake - a version of W.H. Auden's "Funeral Blues" (Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone/Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone/Silence the pianos and with muffled drum/Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead/ Scribbling on the sky the message She Is Dead.) This last not dissimilar to Ezra's comment: "Marj is dead, dead, dead."

"Funeral Blues" is one of the poems in Poems and Readings for Funerals edited by Julia Watson, and there are some other good ones in this collection too. One of them, called "Gone from my Sight," describes a sailboat disappearing over the horizon as we watch from the shore. For us she is gone, but the poet says she is "just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side/ and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port. Her diminished size is in me, not in her." Marj always seemed larger than life, and I like to think that she still is.

I also liked "Live your Life" by Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee Nation (1768 - 1813.) One of the best of all is also the oldest in the book, by a Chinese poet of the 6th century B.C., called "All things pass." The first two lines are "All things pass/A sunrise does not last all morning." It's a philosophy of life I've been trying to grasp for years. As a child and young adult, I had the idea that life was all about building things to get to a point of satisfaction and success, but now I see more that each life has its arc, like the apparent arc of the sun each day. It rises and sets and meanwhile shines on what it may.

Anyway, I'm glad I bought the book. It illustrates the wide spectrum of people's reactions to death and it may give me some words with which to commemorate someone else's passing some day.


  1. Wonderful post -- sounds like you're doing some good reflecting. I haven't felt particularly philosophical about Marj's passing...maybe that will come. I've just been feeling the dull thud of mortality, and I seem to have lost the ability to ignore it or distract myself sufficiently.

  2. The book helped me do that reflecting, I guess, but mostly I'm with you - dull thud of mortality. When I think of Marj being gone, I just mostly groan and make despairing sounds like "ugh."

  3. Excellent post. Sounds like a book I'd like to read at some point. Interesting how a poet from a different culture entirely and a vastly different era can say something that we still very much relate to today in our sophisticated and sterile times.