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How Bereavement Poems Guide Us Through Honest Introspection

The passing of someone close is often jarring because it demands an honesty that is unsettling to most. This honesty requires that we fully accept our loved one is truly gone and that we must now carry on without them. In this time of mourning, we are also faced with our own mortality and the destiny that every human being shares – death. For some, this is a burden too great to bear, and so we carefully navigate around the topic and plaster over our pain with comforting quotes and hopes for a happier future. Whether we explore the idea of death or not – along with the existential dread it may bring – there is certainly something refreshing about handling it with authenticity. Bereavement poems are one way with which we can take an earnest look at our thoughts, emotions, and experiences surrounding the concept of loss and death, and we may even find some healing along the way.

Honesty at the Heart of All Art

The famous Greek philosopher, Plato, was known for writing dramatic dialogues – but he had several objections to poetry. He was a moralist who viewed poetry as immoral because, according to his theory of mimesis, art is mimetic – it can only imitate reality. He saw poetry as an art form based on nothing but illusion and falsehoods for pleasure. To Plato, truth could be found in philosophy, but the arts offered nothing rational because he believed it only entertained harmful fantasy. While poetry may not always reflect reality, it does explore real themes important to humanity, such as bereavement, love, and hope. Poems hold just as much power when used to address real-world issues, and unlike Plato, more modern artists have a different opinion about the importance of their craft. Poet Dylan Thomas once said, “A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him.” Even art that is not created with reality in mind, still adds to reality.

Mari Evans, an American Black Arts poet, playwright, and children’s writer, used her work to speak truth into issues of social justice. In her powerful piece, “Speak the Truth to the People”, Evans wrote:

“Speak the truth to the people
Talk sense to the people
Free them with honesty
Free the people with Love and Courage for their Being”

While Plato might have felt that falsehoods are the basis for poetry, activist poets and writers have, historically, often used the written word to inject truth into the public arena and take a stand for important issues. Every artist, therefore, is free to decide how honest they are willing to be, and in the case of bereavement poems, honesty is often far more healing in the face of grief.

Expressing Words Left Unsaid

Bereavement poems take many forms, but some poets choose to use them as a cathartic final letter of closure. Using poetic devices and verses, poets can finally express what it is they have always wanted to say, but never did. This may be an expression of love, forgiveness, disappointment, or even anger. Bereavement poems can also be recited or read as many times as needed to gain more closure or deal with these deep feelings.

Inviting Others into Your Sacred Space of Grieving

Bereavement poems need not always be shared at funeral services and memorials – they can be written as a personal creative expression or given to someone as a sympathy gift while extending your condolences. When read aloud at a wake or memorial, however, bereavement poems unite the audience in their grief, and this invitation into another’s personal sorrow helps us feel connected while we mourn.

Considering your own life, appreciating being alive, and celebrating the life of the loved one who passed on are all possible with bereavement poems – but only when they are written with authenticity. In this way, honest introspection is our most powerful and healing source from which to draw when engaging with such poetry.

If you would like to read more poems that explore important themes like death, love, hope, and birth, take a look at our library here.