Help me find a memorial poem my mom and I both like.
June 9, 2014 2:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm reading a poem for my grandmother's memorial service. I want to find something I like that will also get my mother's OK.

My mom asked me to represent our branch of the family by reading a poem at my grandmother's memorial in two weeks, so I want to choose something she and I both like.

I'd prefer not to read something that's too flowery or maudlin, but my mother vetoed my original choice (Olav Hauge's "The Dream We Carry") as too enigmatic, though we both like the style.

So, I'm looking for a happy medium - something that's secular and not overly ornate, but specifically references the idea of passing on or memorializing someone. Because my grandmother had a long life and a comfortable death, we'd both prefer something that leans more to the meditative/bittersweet/poignant end of the spectrum as opposed to raw grief. Neither she or I wants to do "Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep", and in general would like to avoid anything that has the feel of an "obligatory" reading.

I've read some other memorial reading selection threads (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) here and have taken a few suggestions, but I'm holding out hope that something else suggested here will resonate more deeply for both of us.
posted by superfluousm to Human Relations (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry for your loss. I really like Sunlight on the Garden by Louis MacNeice:

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.
posted by *becca* at 3:08 PM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I read Jane Kenyon's "Let Evening Come" at my grandfather's funeral:

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 3:35 PM on June 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

Now Voyager
By May Sarton

Now voyager, lay here your dazzled head.
Come back to earth from air, be nourish-ed,
Not with that light on light, but with this bread.

Here close to earth be cherished, mortal heart,
Hold your way deep as roots push rocks apart
To bring that spurt of green up from the dark.

Where music thundered, let the mind be still,
Where the will triumphed, let there be no will,
What light revealed now let the dark fulfill.

Here close to earth the deeper pulse is stirred,
Here where no wings rush and no sudden bird,
But only heartbeat upon beat is heard.

Here let the fiery burden all be spilled,
The passionate voice be calmed and stilled,
And the long yearning of the blood fulfilled.

Now voyager, come home, come home to rest,
Here on that long-lost country of earth's breast
Lay down the fiery vision and be blest, be blest.
posted by gudrun at 5:36 PM on June 9, 2014

it is long, but it is the American memorial poem.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd
posted by Ironmouth at 7:29 PM on June 9, 2014

I was reading an old book, and they mentioned Frances Anne Kemble's "Absence." It is, admittedly, a bit flowery and of the language of a different era. I like the sense of making one's life a full one even after loss, however.

Actually...I read your 'enigmatic' selection and you might like this one, which is thoughtful and evocative but does not necessarily mention death. I've always liked it:

Mary Oliver
"Wild Geese"

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I found a video of Mary Oliver reading her own poem.
posted by spelunkingplato at 9:49 PM on June 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm the kind of old lady who gives advice and the thing I would want the be read to anyone who loves me enough to come to a memorial for me is this:

Max Ehrmann


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity
and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

posted by Anitanola at 1:09 AM on June 12, 2014 [24 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I ended up reading an excerpt from the end of Whitman's "Song of Myself", but these selections were really lovely and my mom and I both enjoyed them.
posted by superfluousm at 11:35 AM on July 11, 2014

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