The AVBOB Poetry Competition | Remembering the Ones We Love with Memorial Poems

Remembering the Ones We Love with Memorial Poems

Memorial poems or remembrance poems are heartfelt pieces of poetry used to honour and remember those we have lost. Memorial poems have been written by some of the greatest writers throughout history, including William Shakespeare, W.H. Auden, Pablo Neruda, and Emily Dickinson. While these writers were undoubtedly writing about a specific loved one, the theme of loss and mourning is universal, and this is why memorial poems speak to so many of us. In moments of heartache or despair, they offer a comforting message: we are not alone and someone, albeit a writer perhaps far away or no longer here, understands our pain.

These poems can either be in the form of an elegy, which reflects on the deceased person in a sombre tone, or a eulogy, which is more celebratory in nature and praises the person and their life.

Memorial Poems in Popular Culture

Perhaps one of the most pertinent moments of memorial poetry in popular culture occurred in the classic film “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. When John Hannah's character Matthew loses his true love, he reads the W.H Auden classic, “Funeral Blues”. In this poem, Auden expresses his inability to comprehend the loss of his love. He cannot understand how the world can happily carry on despite this devastating and incomprehensible loss. Auden, reflecting on the magnitude of this loss, calls for the world to mourn with him, asking for aeroplanes to circle the sky and bows to be placed around the necks of the public doves. The final stanza highlights how his world has collapsed amid the loss, and heart-wrenchingly, Auden writes:

"The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good."

Without the person he once loved, life seems unfathomable. This memorial poem, while written for Auden's love, shares universal truths. The loss of those we love is unbearable, and imagining a life without the person is difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend.

Things to Consider When Writing Memorial Poems

Writing our own memorial poems can be one of the most cathartic things we do when grieving someone we loved. Whether the poem is to be read as a eulogy or is simply a private celebration of the person's life, it is undoubtedly a genre worth exploring. If you are considering writing a memorial poem, consider the following steps:

  • Write Out All Your Feelings: Before you start, jot down everything you are feeling. Take time to consider the person you have lost in their entirety; the way they spoke, the sound of their voice, their unique mannerisms, their hopes and dreams, and how they made you feel. Understandably, this can be a difficult task, and it is essential to be gentle with yourself. This activity will serve as a source of inspiration when you write your memorial poem, and certain words or phrases will likely become catalysts for the themes and motifs you later develop.

  • Explore Themes: Next up, you will want to consider the theme of your work. Will it be light-hearted, focusing on the humorous and quirky aspects of the person's life? Will it be melancholic, exploring the magnitude of your significant loss? Will you focus on a celebration of their life, or will there be an explicit focus on death? Finding your theme will offer clarity to your tone and style.

  • Thinking About Structure and Rhyme: Once you have established the theme, you will need to consider structure. While many people think that poetry has to rhyme, this is not always the case. Perhaps your loved one was a wild and free spirit, and a freeform poem would better suit their life. Nonetheless, some poets will choose rhyming lines based on syllabic beats and opt for a more conventional structure. Choose a structure and style that speaks to you as a poet.

One of the best ways to improve your writing and glean inspiration is to read a vast array of works by different poets. Happily, you can access The AVBOB Poetry Project library here and explore themes, such as love, death, hope, and birth. We encourage poets who write in all 11 official languages, and thus, there is something for everyone in our database.