Too sad for a witty title
December 13, 2012 4:47 PM   Subscribe

My grandad passed away today. My family have asked me to find a poem he might like, to read at his funeral. He was an engineer who would only read 'factual' things, such as instructional/educational books and later in life, a lot of biographies. He didn't go in for poetry at all that I know of. Would like to avoid 'Do not stand at my grave and cry'. Any reccommendations?

I'm not sure when the funeral is yet but I am panicking and blanking on this. Thank you in advance for any guidance.
posted by everydayanewday to Human Relations (27 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Try Billy Collins - I hate poetry, but I loooove his. Not rhyming or sappy or anything; very contemplative about everyday life, pretty straightforward, and often wryly funny. I could see finding something appropriate, thoughtful, and yet would give people a small chuckle rather than make them cry. A lot of it is available on Poemhunter, and any major bookstore probably has a couple of his books.

BTW - I'm so sorry. I lost my grandfather last year, right before Thanksgiving. It's rough.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:56 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You have my deepest condolences; even expected losses can be difficult.

I am particularly fond of the Egyptian poem I'll reproduce below, and read it for my best friends' memorial, but I don't know how it would go over in other populations.

Death is before me today:
Like the recovery of a sick man,
Like going forth into a garden after sickness

Death is before me today:
Like the odor of myrrh,
Like sitting under a sail in a good wind.

Death is before me today:
Like the course of a stream
Like the return of a man from the war-galley to his house.

Death is before me today:
Like the home that a man longs to see,
After years spent as a captive.

It's from From "Dialogue of a Misanthrope with His Soul" (ca 2000 BC), from the Middle Period of Egypt, obviously translated (this is the translation from Neil Gaiman's comic books).
posted by Deoridhe at 4:58 PM on December 13, 2012 [16 favorites]

What about going at it from an an angle of a poem that reminds you of him or time you spent together rather than one you have to guess if he would like? It might help you feel better about your choice.
posted by cecic at 4:58 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you know anything about whose biographies he particularly liked? A quotation might serve just as well as a poem.
posted by gracedissolved at 5:00 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he was areligious, and if your family enjoys a certain kind of humor, Zelazny's Agnostic Prayer might be a fit.
posted by bq at 5:07 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I know he was an avid reader of Bill Bryson, as well as a lot of biographies of ordinary people from our particular part of the northwest (he was very loyal to our little town, and felt very rooted there). I think that might have something to do with him having to travel all over the world for work but relishing the comfort of having a family and a history in our village (there are five generations of our family buried in the local churchyard).
posted by everydayanewday at 5:07 PM on December 13, 2012

Best answer: You want a physicist to speak at your funeral.
posted by ColdChef at 5:08 PM on December 13, 2012 [42 favorites]

What field of engineering was he in?
posted by run"monty at 5:09 PM on December 13, 2012

Best answer: How about The Sons of Martha, by Rudyard Kipling? In Canadian engineering schools, this is read at a ceremony in which graduating engineering students take an oath to uphold the public good and receive special rings to remind them of this oath throughout their careers. I see you're in Canada -- if he went to school in Canada and wore the little ring on his pinkie finger, then he spoke this oath and heard this poem.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:09 PM on December 13, 2012 [13 favorites]

Astronomy Lesson by Alan Shapiro
posted by ocherdraco at 5:09 PM on December 13, 2012

Best answer: Kenneth Rexroth -

Water is always the same —
Obedient to the laws
That move the sun and the other
Stars. In Japan as in
California it falls
Through the steep mountain valleys
Towards the sea. Waterfalls drop
Long musical ribbons from
The high rocks where temples perch.
Ayu in the current poise
And shift between the stones
At the edge of the bubbles.
White dwarf iris heavy with
Perfume hang over the brink.
Cedars and cypresses climb
The hillsides. Something else climbs.
Something moves reciprocally
To the tumbling water.
It ascends the rapids,
The torrents, the waterfalls,
To the last high springs.
It disperses and climbs the rain.
You cannot see it or feel it.
But if you sit by the pool
Below the waterfall, full
Of calling voices all chanting
The turmoil of peace,
It communicates itself.
It speaks in the molecules
Of your blood, in the pauses
Between your breathing. Water
Flows around and over all
Obstacles, always seeking
The lowest place. Equal and
Opposite, action and reaction,
An invisible light swarms
Upward without effort. But
Nothing can stop it. No one
Can see it. Over and around
Whatever stands in the way,
Blazing infinitesimals —
Up and out — a radiation
Into the empty darkness
Between the stars.
posted by faineant at 5:12 PM on December 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss. I read "If" by Rudyard Kipling at my grandfather's funeral, as a tribute to all that he taught me.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!

posted by Rock Steady at 5:14 PM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am sorry for your loss. I find this poem to be apt for the occassion and not overly grandiose or mournful.

He has achieved success

He has achieved success who has lived well,
laughed often and loved much:
who has enjoyed the trust of pure women,
the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
who has filled the niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it;
whether by an improved poppy,
a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of Earth's beauty
or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given the best he had.
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.

Bessie A Stanley, American poet
posted by mosk at 5:14 PM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I was going to suggest the sons of martha by Kipling also. He had several good poems about engineers but that one is best.
posted by bartonlong at 5:15 PM on December 13, 2012

Best answer: I'm so sorry. My grandmother passed away earlier this year, and I understand how you are reeling with shock and sadness.

I read this at my grandmothers memorial service:

To Those I Love

If I should ever leave you whom I love
To go along the silent way,
Grieve not,
Nor speak of me with tears,
But laugh and talk of me
As if I were beside you there.

(I'd come - I'd come, could I but find a way!
But would not tears and grief be barriers?)

And when you hear a song or
See a bird I loved,
Please do not let the thought of me be sad,
For I am loving you just as I always have.
You were so good to me!

There are so many things I wanted still to do,
So many things to say to you...
Remember that I did not fear.
It was just leaving you that was so hard to face.
We cannot see beyond...
But this I know:
I love you so -
Twas heaven here with you!

Isla Paschal Richardson (1886-1971)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:16 PM on December 13, 2012 [13 favorites]

Best answer: This one is for pilots, but it's really applicable for anyone who studied the sciences. I read it at my grandfather's funeral.

"High Flight"
John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
posted by ColdChef at 5:17 PM on December 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

Best answer: The Old Astronomer to His Pupil

Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

(Through the author, Tycho Brahe speaks:)

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, 'tis original and true,
And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men's fellowship and wiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles.

You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant's fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:19 PM on December 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

You might like some of Robert Hass's poems from Praise-- they're beautiful and complicated, but they also speak to the way people care for each other, and the language is deceptively simple. Heroic Simile is really striking, as is Meditation at Lagunitas. They're not exactly elegies, but they think about loss and mourning in subtle, lovely ways.
posted by dizziest at 5:21 PM on December 13, 2012

Response by poster:
What field of engineering was he in?
posted by run"monty at 5:09 PM

He was the Chief Engineer at Atomic Energy before his retirement. And thank you everyone for your help! So much to read.
posted by everydayanewday at 5:23 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry to hear that. You have a lot of good stuff here but I wanted to add this one because my grandpa was an engineer too and this was his favorite poem. There are a bunch of stanzas but here's the first one:

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist
TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!—
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.


Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
posted by bleep at 5:41 PM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I love this, which I learned through a short art song of it:

"We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."

            - found in Allegheny, PA

This is from a (very short) song for voice and piano, part of a set of epitaphs set by American composer Richard Hundley. I think the song is beautiful. This recital performance is very nice.
posted by amtho at 5:46 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Also: The poet A. R. Ammons was a biologist, also, and he may have a scientific perspective you'd appreciate:

From this article: His poem "One Must Recall as One Mourns the Dead" (from The Snow Poems, 1977) achieves sublime pathos by refusing to mourn:
do not mourn the dead too much who bear no
knowledge, have no need or fear of pain,

and who never again must see death
come upon what does not wish to die "
posted by amtho at 5:53 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

The lyrics to Pete Seeger's "Old Brown Earth:" Much more beautiful as a song if you can swing it.

To my old brown earth
And to my old blue sky
I'll now give these last few molecules of "I."

And you who sing,
And you who stand nearby,
I do charge you not to cry.

Guard well our human chain,
Watch well you keep it strong,
As long as sun will shine.

And this our home,
Keep pure and sweet and green,
For now I'm yours
And you are also mine.
posted by R2WeTwo at 4:14 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

by John Donne
posted by theora55 at 7:39 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
that we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without affect,
without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolutely unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you,
for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just around the corner.

All is well.

- Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918)
posted by Someone Else's Story at 11:56 AM on December 14, 2012 [11 favorites]

I just wanted to thank everyone who has contributed to this thread. My grandfather also happened to have passed this morning after a long battle with illness. While I am not normally the type to do so, the comments above have inspired me to share something at his memorial service.

@everydayanewday - I am sure your grandfather will love anything you choose to share on his behalf. Best wishes to you and your family.
posted by stubie at 1:33 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Does it have to be a poem? This Bill Bryson quote feels appropriate.

I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by OrangeDisk at 3:30 PM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

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