Funerals provide an opportunity for people to come together to either share in the grief or celebration of the occasion. Poems are part and parcel of such ceremonies. Funeral poems, which were commonly written to pay tribute to dead children in Australia during the 19th Century, are fast gaining in popularity. Today, we have numerous modern funeral poems written in honour of dead relatives or friends.
We are also likely to encounter more in sympathy of poems written to comfort bereaved families. Religion is another important aspect of funerals. Globally, more than 8 out of 10 people identify with a religious group. Christianity commands the largest following with Catholics taking about 50% of this. It is therefore expected that more and more Catholic funeral poems are being incorporated into funeral programmes.
Modern poetry is a break away from the traditional subjects, themes, concepts and styles. It began in the middle of the 19th and going into the beginning of the 20th century, writers could engage in various forms of individualised writing away from traditional values and assumptions.
Modern funeral poems incorporate the modern mode of expression that is free, relaxed, realistic, open and experimental. These are poems that have made it possible for people to breach the norm and express any and all views freely.
The characteristics of modern funeral poems.
- They are written on multiple themes or topics.
This means that a particular poem can present several themes or topics at the same time. Some of these topics and themes include;
This expresses the grief and sorrow associated with the loss of a loved one. The theme highlights the normality of grieving and suffering due to the loss of a loved one.
These poems revolve around the theme of death. They can range from poems condemning, accepting, addressing or sharing the experience of death.
It is not uncommon to have some humour blended into funeral poems. This is meant to break the solemnness associated with traditional funeral readings and presentations and also to lighten the mood a little.
This focuses on reminiscing on memories of or shared with the departed. It can focus on any aspect of his or her life or just how the bereaved choose to remember them.
Sadness and Sorrow.
The theme focuses on the sadness and sorrow brought about by the loss of a loved one. It elicits the same emotions on the audience.
Peace-themed modern funeral poems show one’s acceptance of what has happened and the hope that the deceased is in a better place.
The theme seeks to sympathise with the bereaved family. It is a way of communicating your condolences. Showing how sympathetic you are can be hard especially to the bereaved family; a sympathy themed poem will do it for you.
They are usually open form or free verse.
The open form of poetry does not follow the traditional set guidelines. There is no regular pattern, end rhyme, regular line length or a set number of lines in a stanza. The freedom of writing that comes with modern poetry allows the poets to choose which aspects of traditional poetry to use and which ones to ignore. However, this does not make them less artistic or effective.
They are written in realism.
Modern funeral poetry looks at life and death as it is. It presents both in a matter-of-fact and straightforward way without incorporating supernatural or transcendent occurrences.
They are usually marked with Imagism instead of symbolism.
Symbolism was considered complex and not easy to understand while imagism is all about sight and sound. Imagism creates an image with the use of simple words that a common audience can easily identify with.
They are written from multiple points of view.
Modern funeral poems shy away from one character whose point of view is limited and instead incorporate various points of view.
When to use modern funeral poems.
Modern funeral poems can be used in any kind of funeral and in honour of any person. This is because they are not allied to any form of religious, cultural, political or social order. This makes them flexible and a great choice for someone looking for something special.
It would be hard to understand Catholic funeral poems if you had no idea about what happens in a Catholic funeral. A Catholic funeral is based on the teaching that everyone was created in God’s image and that they, therefore, deserve the dignity of a decent burial. During the funeral, prayers are said for the deceased to have complete peace with God and for the living to find solace.
The Catholic faith is fixed on the promise of Jesus that Christians will one day share in the eternal life. The funeral mass is centred on praising Christ and not the deceased. However, there is an opportunity for a word of remembrance where a designated person gives a presentation on how the deceased carried on the life of faith as commissioned by the church.
A prayer vigil is held the night before the mass. It is commonly referred to as the wake. It is set in an informal atmosphere. Here, people have an opportunity to share their memories, tributes and other presentations in honour of the deceased.
The last rite is celebrated beside the final resting place where the deceased awaits the glory of everlasting life. It is called the Rite of Committal. Here, the deceased is ushered into the waiting fellowship of the departed saints through prayers and farewell.
Characteristics of Catholic Funeral poems.
- They talk about the reality of death in the life of a Christian.
According to the Catholic faith, it wasn’t God’s intention for His people to suffer through life and finally die. This came about through sin and therefore suffering and death became reality. When one dies, they are detached from the world and their souls go to meet the Lord and await His judgement.
- They shed light on the approach that Christians should have towards death.
Catholic believers are taught to prepare for death by acts of love, prayer, confession and repentance and through sharing in the Holy Communion. A poet may choose to capture this not just to highlight the life of faith led by the deceased but also offer a moment of reflection for the living.
- They express the Catholic belief in eternal life.
Once a believer dies, he/she has an opportunity for eternal life if they lived a life of faith. They can, therefore, approach death with peace and trust since it is only a stepping stone towards a better life. This is based on the knowledge that Jesus Christ died and resurrected to open the gates of heaven to those who believe in Him.
However, some deceased souls may have to go through the purification of purgatory to make them worthy to face God face to face. They are helped through this by prayers of the remaining believers. Catholic poems have the ability to capture this belief.
- They may focus on the joy of saints in heaven.
Eternal life is not just about life without end but a reunion with all the departed saints. It is love wrapped in the joy, love and peace of God in the company of all the angels and saints.
- They sometimes include bible quotes.
In the Christian bible, there are readings that go with every situation. There are quite numerous ones on the theme of loss and grief and they sometimes feature in religious poetry.
- They can be actual extracts from the bible.
The Bible contains a lot of texts that can be relayed in a poetic form. The Bible itself contains several poetic books; Psalms, Songs of Solomon and to some extent Proverbs.
When to read the Catholic funeral poems.
Unlike some other forms of funeral programmes, the Catholic funeral follows certain guidelines as explained above. This knowledge can help you know which poems to pick and when to recite or read them to avoid interfering with the church programme. Other than put them on gravestones, funeral programmes, journals, biographical scrapbooks and memorial videos, here are other places that you can slot them.
- At the funeral home where mourners are assembled
- During the prayer vigil (wake) which is held on the night before the funeral
- When saying farewell at the final resting place independent of the Rite of Committal
- During the communal meal after the funeral events
These poems are created to offer support, compassion and comfort during the loss of a loved one. At a time when one is dealing with loss, you find that you are not sure of the right words to use to let them know that they are not alone. While no one can claim to fully understand what another is going through, words of sympathy can convey the message that you actually care and are making the effort to understand. A poem with just the right words may come in handy.
Characteristics of in sympathy poems.
- They can be either be short or long.
Short in sympathy poems come in handy when there is limited time to present, young children are involved in presenting or there is limited space where the poem needs to be used. Longer ones cover a lot and are great where longer presentations are possible. The quality of a poem does not, however, depend on its length.
- They acknowledge the loss.
The poems acknowledge both the existence and the loss of the deceased. While they may not seek to understand why they recognize that the loss has brought you immeasurable grief. It is only then that words of consolation can find meaning.
- They express sympathy.
This is the expression of sorrow at someone’s misfortune. It gives the recipient the comfort of knowing that they are not alone in their loss.
- They offer support.
Offering condolences might not be enough if you are not giving ongoing support. Though the offer may not always be responded to, it is good if the grieving person knows that they can count on you should they need it.
- They may or may not include religious sentiments.
This means that you can always get an in sympathy poem whether you are religious or not. Religious quotes have a way of offering comfort and so do some non-religious ones.
How to use in sympathy poems.
Like every other poem, popular places can be on a headstone, funeral programmes, memorial journals etc. What if you don’t get the opportunity? You can still use your sympathy poem in these two ways.
- Sympathy cards- The writings on a sympathy card are better if they are personalised. This does not mean that you cannot put a well-selected poem; it would provide a good keepsake for the bereaved family. Another way would be personalising a chosen short sympathy poem by replacing he/she/you with the name of the deceased or the person that you are sympathising with.
- Sympathy gift- These are even better keepsakes. You can have the gift engraved with a poem. If it cannot be engraved, you can attach the poem to accompany it.
Modern poems are a deviation from traditional poetry. Modern funeral poems have not been left behind either. They are open verse, freer and set in different perspectives. Still, poets are free to keep or ignore some aspects of the traditional poetry.
Catholic funeral poems on the hand may adopt many aspects of the Catholic religion. These may include life, death and the afterlife. Catholic funerals are about praising God and not the deceased. Catholic funeral programmes provide little room for poem presentations but the wake is a good platform for people to celebrate the departed away from the liturgy.
In sympathy, poems come in handy when one wants to convey their support and compassion to the mourning family. They can be immortalised by carving them in gifts or other memorabilia. These poems are meant to remind the bereaved that all is not lost and they still have people left whom they can count on.