I don’t know about you but I love poetry and choosing the pieces that I use is one of my greatest pleasures.
Sometimes a piece will suggest itself straight away and that is great but more often than not finding the right piece is a quest and it is one that I relish.
Poetry creates atmosphere and rhythm, it can be used for emphasis or to provide punctuation. Poetry and music work in harmony and they help to inform the character of the ceremony and the person or people who are at the centre of the piece.
Funeral ceremonies do not have to be somber
Most of the people for whom I have written a ceremony have had foibles, most of us do and those quirks are what we will remember once the first agonies of grief have started to subside.
Why not celebrate the idiosyncrasies with gentle humour? Amongst the millions of poems that there are, there is bound to be one that will chime …
I eat my peas with honey, I’ve done it all my life,
It may sound rather funny, but it keeps them on the knife.
Sounds ridiculous, but if that was what your Uncle Charlie did, then how perfect would that be. It is not rude or irreverent and it will provide a wry smile for those who loved him at an otherwise horrible time.
Poems for the young at heart
I find that going back to childhood can be enormously comforting, there is something about snatches of poetry remembered that brings comfort and security.
Just recently I conducted a ceremony for a teenager whose life was cut short by an accident. We wanted to recall the freedom of youth and this poem, The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson said it so succinctly, the poem was read by his brother.
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
When I ask people if they have a particular poem that they would like to hear, I often get a slightly panicked look and a mumbling about not really enjoying poetry at school.
Poetry is not all about the 19th century poets, many of them are fantastic, but song lyrics are poetry too and there are some glorious modern pieces that have more relevance to us now, that are easier to read and are very emotive.
If there is someone who would like to make a contribution to the ceremony but who is struggling to find the words why not suggest that they read a verse or two; your Celebrant will have plenty of suggestions of pieces that are easy to read and easy to hear, that say what they would like to say but in a way that feels more polished.
Abridging and attributing poetry
Like any work of art it is correct to attribute a poem to its’ author and if you are going to make alterations, as I have done with Red, red rose ~ Robert Burns then tell the audience that you are doing so. I would massacre that beautiful piece of Scottish poetry and so I had to anglicize it.
You can tweak a piece, change the gender to suit – it really doesn’t matter as long as there is valid reason and honesty in your alterations.
Poetry for weddings
I would counsel you to avoid the mushy stuff. There are ways of showing that the people who are pledging themselves to one another are in love without everyone cringing.
Poems that are written with elegance and that celebrate love are a joy to listen to; I find verse easier than prose but that is a personal preference. If you have a piece of music that resonates with you both, read the lyrics, it may be that they say what you would like to convey.
Some of the most successful pieces of poetry at a wedding have been read by a close friend and chosen by them without the couples’ prior knowledge. It is one of the joys of modern life, poetry is at everyone’s disposal on the internet and we celebrants love a good rummage through the various sites in search of the perfect piece.
Not unlike listening to your child’s first fumblings on the recorder … be very careful, poetry can be so perfect and it can be painful too. It is lovely to celebrate a child’s love for their grandparent in verse but sometimes it is best to print it into the service sheet.
I hope that some of this has helped you, choosing the right poem can elevate your ceremony from every-day to exceptional and it is my job to offer you the smorgasbord to select from.