Non-religious memorial service readings
May 26, 2008 1:34 PM   Subscribe

What are some good non-religious readings I can use at a memorial service?

I'm going to be speaking at my father's memorial service on Wednesday and I'm looking for some short readings or poems that are not from The Bible or having to do with Heaven or God or anything like that. Somewhere under 50 lines, I'd say, since I don't want to be going on and on. Some of his interests were hiking (Shasta), children, cars, sci-fi and politics, but general "person close to me" bits are perfectly fine. I've seen the other MeFi posts related to this, but none have been particularly useful. Thanks!
posted by rhizome to Human Relations (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 1:38 PM on May 26, 2008

Sorry for your loss, rhizome.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas.
When Death Comes by Mary Oliver (some other good ones on that page too).

Could you give us a little more to go on with regard to tone/mood/message? Or a writer he especially liked?
posted by ottereroticist at 1:59 PM on May 26, 2008

One of my all time favorite poems is "Remember," by Christina Rossetti:

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day.
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
posted by decathecting at 2:06 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Actually, looking at "Thanatopsis," I'd say a better length would be around 30 lines. It's a good one, but I think it's too long for me. The Dylan Thomas is good (of course), but a little archingly "serious" (if that makes any sense).

I think for tone I would love a good humorous one, since one trait I forgot was his love of comedy. "Serious poetry" would be limiting for this crowd, and I'd like something accessible so that complicated structure and tone doesn't get lost into a drone of words, not to mention my untrained meter reading. Nothing against high poetry, which I love, but I'm thinking of the crowd and time. I'm not a huge public speaker by any means.

Currently I'm liking this one from Sherman Alexie, which illustrates what I'm aiming for in tone, accessiblity and length.
posted by rhizome at 2:28 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think more generally that I'm looking for something that will leave people more with a smile on their faces from their memories of life than a sense of the profound and serious nature of death.
posted by rhizome at 2:31 PM on May 26, 2008

Three suggestions:

As Befits A Man, by Langston Hughes

Perfection Wasted
, by John Updike

Titanic, by David R. Slavitt
posted by Bella Sebastian at 2:49 PM on May 26, 2008

This bit from Cymbeline is nice. I'd clip off the last stanza (I've never liked it, and it sounds like you'd be happier without the superstitious stuff anyway).
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:58 PM on May 26, 2008

you've undoubtedly heard it before, but my uncle read 'do not stand at my grave and weep' at my grandfather's service and it went over quite well.
posted by noloveforned at 3:10 PM on May 26, 2008

rhizome - I'm sorry for your loss.

If you can't find just the right poem or reading, don't worry about it. You can simply tell everyone what your father meant to you. It'll be perfect.
posted by 26.2 at 3:14 PM on May 26, 2008

The very end of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself has always seemed like a lovely piece about death to me: Section 52:

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab
and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow'd wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
posted by not that girl at 9:25 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is what my Dad has asked be read at his funeral: "Invictus", by William Ernest Henley.


OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
posted by LN at 7:15 AM on May 27, 2008

"Stop all the clocks" by WH Auden.
posted by nancoix at 7:34 AM on May 27, 2008

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