A eulogy is more than something that is read at a funeral or memorial service. It exists as a beautiful document that can be shared with future generations, providing an inspired testament within a family.
My grandmother passed away in 1938. At the time, my mother was only eight years old. I never knew my grandmother, but I wonder about her often. I would have loved to have known her. Growing up, I pestered my mother with questions about her mother, intent on gathering enough information to form my own vision of a woman whose memory was destined to allude me. Though my mother’s memory of her was scarce, she was able to share a poem that had been written upon her death in 1938. My mother never knew who authored the poem, but it was important enough for her to keep and share with her children. I feel blessed to possess something that can be handed down to my nieces and nephews, their children, and beyond. As my family continues to grow, it will at least provide a small glimpse of the woman positioned near the top of our family tree.
In Memory of
Mrs. Eugene Jennings
You cannot leave, not now,
with summer returning.
with grass growing green above
the place where you sleep.
The long sleep.
You cannot go now, with lilacs
in bloom and a white moon burning
like incense upon the hilltop
where silent stars keep faithful watch.
Oh, always there will be something to hold you here,
some little thing that will not
let you go;
Perhaps some haunting song,
some memory, crystal-clear.
Or the scent of mock orange
blossoms whiter than snow.
You are not dead…your laugh
still echoes on the empty air,
when evening wanders down the empty air,
when evening wanders down the little street.
Sunset, painting the windows gold,
still finds you there.
In the house where you made life heaven-sweet.
The room of silence that is a grave
imprisons you in vain,
while the world goes whirling on
under the same old sky.
Your voice will be in the
wind-kissed trees and the drip of
For a mother who leaves her
dreams behind can never, never die.
I appreciate this poem because it helps me to realize just how much my grandmother was adored by her community. While it expresses a deep sadness for the loss, it also impresses upon me the joy that she brought to all who knew her. My grandmother was unmistakably missed by her friends and family. For those of us who didn't get a chance to know her personally, this poem brings her to life and fills the void that would have been.
Some of the most renowned writers of all time recognized the value of a eulogy when they used their grief to compose some of the most memorable poetry. They understood that to properly honor the life of a dear friend is to document that life with well appointed words, culminating into stanzas that resonate profoundly throughout history. Here are just a few of the most admired:
5 Famous Eulogy Poems
It has become common knowledge that Abraham Lincoln is the most beloved President in American history. Walt Whitman, equally admired as a poet, wrote not one but two poems in Lincoln's honor following the sixteenth President's assassination. The first is considered one of the greatest elegies in the English language while the other remains one of the most important literary studies in schools today.
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd
by Walt Whitman
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
and thought of him I love.
O Captain! My Captain!
by Walt Whitman
O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done,
the ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson composed the following eulogy poem after his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam died at the age of twenty-two in 1833. The lyrics were written over seventeen years before being published in 1850.
In Memoriam A.H.H.
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Percy Shelley wrote this next poem for friend and fellow writer John Keats upon his death at the age of twenty-five in 1821. The words he used to express the sorrow felt at losing his dear friend is almost tangible.
by Percy Shelley
I weep for Adonais-he is dead!
Oh, weep for Adonais! though our tears
Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,
And teach them thine own sorrow, say: "With me
Died Adonais; till the Future dares
Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!"
The final eulogy poem was written by W.H. Auden. He too composed it after the death of a close friend. This piece of writing is so prolific that it remained in contemporary popular culture far beyond its 1930's publication, as it was featured in various works including the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994).
by W.H. Auden
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.
Clearly, each of these great writers composed with the intention of having their honored subject's memory long lasting rather than fleeting. They successfully transformed their mourning into beautiful works of art for future generations to appreciate. Though we may not be famous writers whose stanzas are displayed in literature textbooks, we can still practice this artform within our own family or friend community with the same purpose in mind.