E is for Eulogy

| April 29, 2014

We all struggle to find inspired words at funerals and in condolence letters and often turn to the same trite expressions. I’ve found section 52 of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” to be one of the few poems I’ve read that offers a hopeful, comforting portrayal of death. Recently, my mom’s best friend passed away. She told me that she stayed up until 2am in a Pittsburgh hotel room, trying to find the right poem to read for the eulogy. Not surprisingly, she found this. I wish she had called me and I would have saved her the trouble.

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me;
It flings my likeness after the rest, and true as any, on the shadow’d wilds;
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air—I shake my white locks at the runaway sun;
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean;
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.

– Walt Whitman