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10 elegies to help you express how someone made you feel

Writing an elegy

Your loved ones deserve to be remembered with special words. And, how much more special can you get, than by choosing an evocative song or poem as a tribute to their lives?

These elegies and tribute songs are inspired by love, loss and valediction, and may be able to help you remember a loved one and how they once made you feel.

What is an elegy?

An elegy is a heartfelt gesture, at a funeral, to remember people and express how you felt about them, while a valediction in poem or song is a way of saying a final farewell.

Slightly different from a eulogy, or funeral speech, an elegy is a poem or song of reflection, lamentation and praise for someone who has died. It explains how someone has made you feel, rather than a story of their lives.

Songs such as Elton John’s, Candle In The Wind and Fleetwood Mac’s, Gypsy are classic examples of tribute songs of valediction, expressing lamentation and love. More traditional valediction poems include many of the poems of John Donne, a metaphysical poet who wrote a series of 20 elegies in the 1590s.

Whether you want to write an elegy on your own, or read from someone else’s, here are 10 ideas to give you elegy inspiration.

1. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,

And all the air a solemn stillness holds,

Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,

And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Thomas Gray began writing this poem in 1742, in Stokes Poges, the place where his mother was buried. Since then, it has become one of the best-known poems in the English language, comparing the death of men with images of nature’s life cycles. Gray considers that there is no significant difference between great and common people when they have died - when they reach their graves, they all have the same value.

2. An Elegy for Michael Jackson by L’nass Shango

You shimmering waves on the ocean blue

Dance not again, he cannot dance with you

You weeping forests where the winds wail too

Let your bright tears fall in the pool of dew

The world of pop will never be the same again

The king is dead, and life is a dream so vain.

A tribute poem written by a fan for the King of Pop when he died in June 2009. The poem addresses fellow fans, and asks if they were aware of the artist’s pain while he was still alive. Shango also makes reference to Jackson’s lyrics, and uses them to comfort the readers, and highlight how much he meant to them.

3. Lycidas by John Milton

Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more

Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,

I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude,

And with forc'd fingers rude

Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.

Bitter constraint and sad occasion dear

Compels me to disturb your season due;

For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,

Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.

Who would not sing for Lycidas? he knew

Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.

He must not float upon his wat'ry bier

Unwept, and welter to the parching wind,

Without the meed of some melodious tear.

This pastoral elegy about untimely death was first published in 1638 as part of a collection of elegies in remembrance of Milton’s friend and fellow poet, Edward King, who drowned in a shipwreck in the Irish Sea in 1637.

4. The Kaleidoscope by Douglas Dunn

To climb these stairs again, bearing a tray,

Might be to find you pillowed with your books,

Your inventories listing gowns and frocks

As if preparing for a holiday.

Or, turning from the landing, I might find

My presence watched through your kaleidoscope,

A symmetry of husbands, each redesigned

In lovely forms of foresight, prayer and hope.

I climb these stairs a dozen times a day

And, by the open door, wait, looking in

At where you died. My hands become a tray

Offering me, my flesh, my soul, my skin.

Grief wrongs us so. I stand, and wait, and cry

For the absurd forgiveness, not knowing why.

This mourning poem is an elegy which describes the complex grief felt by Scottish poet, Douglas Dunn after the loss of his wife. If you have experienced the loss of a spouse or partner, you may be able to relate to Dunn’s feelings of losing the one who was the source of great joy, companionship and love.

5. Timer by Tony Harrison

Gold survives the fire that’s hot enough

to make you ashes in a standard urn.

An envelope of course official buff

contains your wedding ring that wouldn’t burn.

Timer was written in 1981, as part of Harrison’s collection, The School of Eloquence. In this mourning poem, written about the death of his mother, Harrison describes the importance of family unity and his relationship with his parents. The poet speaks about how he can almost ‘feel’ the physical presence of his mother, even though she is not around.

6. Epitaph by Katherine Philips

What on Earth deserves our trust?

Youth and Beauty both are dust.

Long we gathering are with pain,

What one moment calls again.

Seven years childless marriage past,

A Son, a son is born at last:

So exactly lim’d and fair,

Full of good Spirits, Meen, and Air,

As a long life promised,

Yet, in less than six weeks dead.

Katherine’s son died forty days after his birth in 1655. This elegy not only acknowledges the difficulties and deep sadness of losing a child, but also describes the celebration and sheer joy she had felt when he was born. She goes on to explain that not even death, can restrain the spirit of her son in his journey to heaven.

7. In memory of A.H.H by Alfred Lord Tennyson

I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I feel it when I sorrow most;

‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.

Written over a period of 17 years, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote this elegy after the lament of losing his good friend, Arthur Henry Hallam. This valediction is bittersweet, as Tennyson explains that it’s “better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all”.

8. Requinescat by Oscar Wilde

Tread lightly, she is near

Under the snow,

Speak gently, she can hear

The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair

Tarnished with rust,

She that was young and fair

Fallen to dust.

Oscar Wilde’s sister, Isola, died when he was just 12 years old, a painful loss that stayed with him during his life. He wrote this valediction poem to remember her by and it reflects the pain and grief of losing a sibling he knows, in his heart, is always near.

9. Bread and Music by Conrad Aiken

Music I heard with you was more than music,

And bread I broke with you was more than bread;

Now that I am without you, all is desolate;

All that was once so beautiful is dead.

In this poem, Aiken reminisces about how even things seems changed and different when someone we love dies. Even everyday objects we took for granted can seem more poignant and significant.

10. I’ll Be Missing You – elegy song by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans

Thinking of the day

When you went away

What a life to take

What a bond to break

I'll be missing you

This song of lamentation and sorrow, is now a popular modern funeral song, recorded by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans in remembrance of rapper Notorious B.I.G. This tribute song proves a lamentation does not have to be expressed through century-old poems to express feelings from the heart.

Browse more valediction poems for funerals to get more ideas for your loved one’s funeral service.