Eulogy: The Spoken “Last Words”

Most of us postpone or suppress any notions we may have about what might be said about us (perhaps in public, perhaps in private,  maybe even mutely) after our inevitable deaths.

The topic for today is “eulogy,”  which literally, deriving from the Greek language, means “praise” or perhaps more precisely, “word of praise.”  It is commonly used to identify a speech given after a person’s passing in praise and memory of that person’s life.

To begin on the light side,  here is an anecdote someone passed on to me many years ago:

Three men had gone to the wake of a close friend of theirs and, after a couple of rounds, began to speculate about what they would like said over their remains at their funeral service.  The first man said,  “Well, I like to believe that I made our society better because of my work in science and engineering,  making easier and more efficient our lives.  I hope something along that line would convey my legacy.  What about you, Ted?  What would you like to have said over your casket at your final service?”    “Well,”  Ted answered,  “I would like to be thought of as a benefactor to my community and to my family,   that through my means, my time, and my efforts I made life easier and more enjoyable for many people who had less than I.  Well, and what about you, Joe?  What would you like to said about you over your casket?”  Joe:  “He’s still breathing!”

Some of the best-known epitaphs graven on the stones that may be erected in cemeteries in our memories come from Latin: “Requiescat in Pace” (“Rest in Peace” in English,  often shortened to “R.I.P.”)   “Ave atque vale”  (“Hail and Farewell”) and “In Memoriam.”   Alfred, Lord Tennyson, writing under the latter title in 1850, wrote perhaps the most extensive and comprehensive eulogy in English (British andAmerican)  literature ,  a tribute to his friend,  Arthur Henry Hallam.  It is one of my favorite long poems in all of literature.

We probably no longer as speakers and writers have the patience to compose and deliver lengthy eulogies. Nor would those attending expect or welcome such.  Yet, it may still be worth reading and recalling, in our time of losses, and in times when we reflect upon our own lives, the most memorable and powerful of such tributes.

John Lithgow,  a well-known and accomplished actor and a poet himself,  has recently published a collection of his favorite poems.  He spoke to Bill Moyers on the latter’s PBS program last January 2 (Thanks, Bob Rundus, for the tip on this) about having read a part of a Shakespeare play at his father’s funeral:  “I actually read it at my father’s memorial service.  It’s my favorite.  It’s one of my favorite pieces of Shakespeare.  I mean,  it’s a sustained poem.  It’s actually, some call it a song, from ‘Cymbeline,’  and it’s Shakespeare’s great eulogy.  It’s called ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun.'”  [RJR: It is done by several characters in the play, but I’ve left out those identifications.]

Here is the entire piece as it appears in the Complete Pelican Shakespeare:

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun

Nor the furious winter’s rages;

Thou, thy worldly task has done,

Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.

Golden lads and girls must

As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o’ the great;

Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke:

Care no more to clothe and eat;

To thee, the reed is as the oak.

The scepter, learning, physic, must

All follow this and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning flash

Nor th’all dreaded thunder-stone;

Fear not slander, censure rash;

Thou hast finish’d joy and moan.

All lovers young, all lovers must

Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee

Ghost unlaid forbear thee;

Nothing ill come near thee.

Quiet consummation have,

And renowned be thy grave.

To be asked to prepare and present a eulogy is a great honor and a greater responsibility.  What is said after one’s death is not for the dead person but for the living–family, friends, neighbors, colleagues–who must carry on:  without her or him.

Comments and contributions about other eulogies welcome.

RJR

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16 Responses to “Eulogy: The Spoken “Last Words””

  1. Terri GoLd Says:

    nice 🙂
    i also love the Shakespeare’s eulogy.

  2. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    We will be dust so what’s the reason to fuss and curse.
    Shakespeare lived to be 52
    that’s not long to be clay
    turn to dust to stay
    till another day,
    if you may,
    believe in clay
    that will decay and
    go away,
    don’t forget to pray
    that you’ll see another day,
    before you laid down to stay,
    so don’t go astray.
    you may have a bad day.

  3. Lisa Epps Says:

    It’s Shakespeare’s euloght

  4. Lisa Epps Says:

    it’s the first time hearing this Shakespearan eulogy. Only the way he (Shakespear) could do it. I did enjoy.

  5. Forest Crump Says:

    Nice Frank, I like that…Snap, snap in the bohemian café. 🙂

  6. Forest Crump Says:

    Sweet death, the equalizer of all life, it is the fate that awaits us all, king and servant, rich man, beggar man, wise man and the fool and once dead they will all soon be forgotten. There is no judgment after death for we are judged while we live by our fellow humans, by society, by culture and most of all by the religions we invent—we are constantly judged and sentenced.

    I had the good fortune to be with my mother when she departed this earth. There came a point in the vigil that night that her eyes glazed over and even though the heart monitor was racing out of control and the body still breathing—She was gone.

    The essence of her being, her life energy, her personality, her spirit had departed and all that was there in that hospital bed was a dying biological organism. Just as the body returns to the earth from whence it came the spirit returns to the creative force from whence it originated.

    I will know her spirit again, not from the form of the body, not from the thoughts of the mind but from the love, she emanates.

  7. Xfriend Says:

    Forest:

    You Mom was a wonderful person. She always greeted folks at church, even Xfriend. Her presence is missed. But we will see her again someday.
    I had a similar take on my mom’s death two years ago.

  8. Xfriend Says:

    meant “Your Mom..”

  9. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    Thanks for sharing guys!! Three of us were at my Dad’s side when he departed in a spiritual way. There seemed to be a presentance that will last in my mind when he stopped breathing and the monitor showing the vitals were all flat lined. It was a strange feeling for each of us.

    Some folks dwell on death most of their life. No one knows the heart or mind of anyone but we wish to assume the best, only God knows the rest. I believe my Dad has gone or will go before a righteous Judge (God) and he will be accountable for all action and words spoken that has not been covered with true repentance. I say that to try and understand where Shakespeare’s thoughts were in penning this work. Most things that come out of us are in us therefore what he was full of makes me wonder.

    It’s amazing how some folks lone to be remembered and many are, as Shakespeare but more aren’t. I think that leads some folks to do even bad to go down in history so they won’t be forgotten. Is it not the stage of Shakespeare that draws us to a conclusion about ends that don’t seem to meet and souls that wonder in despair. To cry out to ears that don’t hear because of the fear of the voice that speaks to the conscience.

    This may very well seem like rubbish and it may very well be just that but some things we just feel like we need to get it out of us at times and not hold them in. Thanks for your ear if you can hear!!

  10. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    Now I’m going to wash my ride and hope it isn’t a sin because today is the Seventh and some believe it to be wrong because it is a day to rest. After giving it a little thought I’ll just be guilty, for there is no place to hide. See you on the other side. There are many looking up at us, but can’t speak.
    That makes me wonder also. There are some things that won’t be reviled in this life. Peace be unto each one as we move forward or backwards!!

  11. Tammy Stephens Says:

    I have pondered on this thread on what to say. I like to support Raymond, so I try to leave something just about every time.
    I don’t attend many funerals, I try to do while they are living. Your stories were very brave to share, and I’m sorry for your loss! I guess my opinion on it all, is my grandmother never wanted a funeral because she “wasn’t there”, and I think I would like the same. I would want people to visit while I was living. The only people, who I worry about being remembered by, is my children. It has been a blessing to come so close to dying, because I now take the time to do all the things I wanted. It’s so important to live life like it’s your last day, because we may not have tomorrow. Twice, I was fine one minute, and almost dying the next. You may never get to tell your loved ones you care, or make amends if need be. Do it while you have that chance. No one was allowed in my room, that’s why you have to say everything, while you can.

  12. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    I try to live life as it comes to me and not over play each day, for each have their own way of filling their day.

  13. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Frank,
    I don’t over play it either, but certainly don’t with hold. Life is to short and ya only live once.

  14. CONCERNED CITIZEN Says:

    Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. For he is like a flower the withers and fades away!

  15. Tammy Stephens Says:

    CC,
    That’s beautiful! Do you write poetry?

  16. Raymond Rundus Says:

    I am impressed by the variety and quality of these responses, including Forest Crump’s eloquent refutation of the promises of traditional Christianity.
    Thanks to those who, I believe, are new to providing comments on this blog site: notably Terri GoLd, Lisa Epps, and “CONCERNED CITIZEN.”

    Tammy S. and Frank M. created personal reflections about the imminence of death: in a father and of oneself. What Xfriend said about Forest’s mother’s character and significance was doubtless also appreciated.

    I do wonder about a couple of matters, one of which was Lisa Epps’s speaking about Shakespeare’s “euloght.” ?

    Did any of you, by the bye, read the recent news story about the discovery of the “Cobbe Portrait” of William Shakespeare? Quite a bit more rakish and hirsute, he, in that one of the three images that are now known.

    “CONCERNED CITIZEN” seems to have been recalling from memory the lament of Job for his mortality as for all men. The passage comes from The Book of Job, 14:1-2: “Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble.
    He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.”

    The despair of Macbeth in Act V of Shakespeare’s tragedy is perhaps even “more Joblike” than the laments of the Biblical personage:
    Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
    To the last syllable of recorded time;
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
    And then is heard no more; it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    You may want to compare this also to the eulogy in “Cymbeline.” And Marshall F. will remember our discussion of the origin of the title of William Faulkner’s well-known novel in a line above. . . .

    RJR

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