A Funeral Poem

2012-11-20

When my father died in 1999, I wrote a poem that I recited at his funeral service, entitled Reflections on My Father's Life (more here). Over the years, several people have asked me if I could adapt it slightly for more general use (since only the 11 lines of the third stanza are specific to my father). Today someone I know online asked me if I'm aware of an appropriate text that could be read at his own father's funeral, so I have finally adjusted my original poem a bit. Since everything that I write is released without copyright, feel free to use this poem if desired (and note that, although all the pronouns are masculine, they could easily be changed to feminine as needed).

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As the generations of leaves,
so the generations of men.
Down to earth the wind shoots the leaves,
but forest trees burst forth again
in the hour when spring is born:
so one generation of men
dies off while another grows strong.
The Iliad, VI.146-149

As the generations of leaves,
so the generations of men.
Yet what's the value of one leaf?
Can it be just to grow the stem?
I think not, but I'm not sure why:
for if I say, as I am wont,
that meaning's made whenever I
create some value in the world,
then it would seem the worth of one
is only in his strength to serve,
to build the beam and build the bough
so others yet may bud and grow
and, having built, may fall to earth
when winter of their time has come.

But so to speak ignores the joy
and pride that comes from bringing new
and unique value to the world
or keeping whole what's come before,
for sake of others and oneself.
For there's no conflict here: we each
pursue an interest in the good
through single acts that are yet whole
and so create without intent
a world that's better for us all.

A leaf has fallen from the tree:
and all I ask is that he gain
a due amount of honor from
the ones he touched and left behind.
A leaf has fallen from the tree:
he lived with pride, he lived with joy,
and we who gather here today
are better for his having lived.

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