The AVBOB Poetry Competition | Funeral Poems: What They Are and How to Get Started

Funeral Poems: What They Are and How to Get Started

There is an old adage that grief, much like the untamed ocean, hits us in waves. Sometimes, these waves are forceful enough to overcome us, and sometimes, they simply lap at our feet. Cathartic practices, such as therapy, movement, and creativity are not just powerful tools in helping us process our grief, but they offer a buoyancy in the face of this ocean’s fierce ebb and flow – a way to stay afloat. Poetry, in particular, is a fantastic first step when it comes to healing and picking up those shattered pieces. Through funeral poems, we can say what we wish we had said earlier, and what needs to be said now.

Funeral poems can either be elegies or eulogies, lamenting or praising the life of those who have passed on. Often recited at memorials or during burial services, these are poems either taken from a popular writer or are written by personal acquaintances, friends, or family of the deceased. They act as a beautiful send-off and contribute to communal mourning and closure when saying goodbye.

Exploring Themes and Emotions

When writing poems on a concept as profound as death and loss, there are several perspectives one can use. Reminiscing on a life marvellously lived and happy memories often bring much comfort to listeners. Poetry can also be used to express the personal despair, numbness, shock, and heartbreak of those left behind. Metaphors and imagery can be utilised to soften the poem, or the piece can be a factual statement that draws the audience into introspection and self-reflection.

How You Engage Your Audience

Writers of funeral poems have the option of either speaking to or with their audience. Speaking with one’s audience is engaging and creates a platform upon which most listeners or readers will relate. Universal themes of loss, sadness, and missing someone are explored here. Speaking to the audience can be just as engaging, but here, the poet might communicate personal feelings, memories, and insights of which the audience has no knowledge.

Choosing the Right Type of Poem

One mistake many amateur poets make is hiding behind technicalities. A structured villanelle or sonnet might seem impressive but could still say nothing at all if no meaning is injected into it. The type of format you select needs to lend to the feel of the poem. An irregular rhythm, for instance, might add to the idea that grief comes in surges, with relieving comfort between the swells. Or it might have no rhythm or rhyme at all – a free verse poem that depicts one’s sense of confusion and disorder in the weeks and months after a deep loss.

Read Other Poems for Inspiration

It is not uncommon to hit a blank, especially while trying to write about someone dear who has passed on. Perhaps you are not sure how to start or which direction to take. It is also difficult to pour from an empty cup, and grief is not a concept that inspires all poets to write. In fact, loss can be exceptionally draining. When in this place, it is essential to try and access the essence of your experience. This may be shock or even a paralysing heaviness.

Expressing this honestly and authentically is one way to handle writer’s block when it comes to funeral poems. Another way is to read funeral poems from other writers. There are quite a few famous poets known for their melancholy metaphors and musings on death, such as Sylvia Plath and John Keats. Within The AVBOB Poetry Project’s online library, however, you will also find thousands of poems from local writers. From funeral pieces to personal letters of loss, these poems tap into the profound experiences of South Africans no matter their cultural and linguistic identities.

It is Never Too Late to Write Funeral Poems

Whether you have an upcoming funeral service or lost someone dear decades ago, you can still write a meaningful farewell piece. At The AVBOB Poetry Project, our annual competitions give South African poets the chance to share their poetry under the theme “I Wish I’d Said”.

No matter which of the official languages you speak, you too can partake in this national competition as a reader or entrant, and join in on our spectacular, creative community.