The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

No One Reads Prose at a Funeral


I sure as hell hope that no one reads an essay at my wedding or funeral. In fact, if you’re even thinking about reading an essay when I die, or get married (assuming they are not taking place on the same day, because if they are, I hope someone writes a book about me), please don’t come. Actually, please stop being my friend. You are not welcome in my circle anymore.

Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, and countless other best-sellers, said it quite well in her response to me this morning: “At weddings and funerals, it’s usually poems that are quoted. Not prose.” Whether or not it’s a joyous or solemn occasion, no one wants to listen to anyone drag on about another person’s life. I attended a funeral last year, and there were seven essays read about the deceased. This person was a wonderful person, and I considered her a dear friend, but I don’t remember one damn word that was read in any of the essays. What I do remember is the poem about her hair. I remember that being the only grouping of words that made me weep.

If at Dylan Thomas’ father’s funeral, he had read, “If there’s one thing I could have wished for my father, it’s that he would have not have gone gently toward that good night, but rather raged – quite fervently – against the dying of the blah blah blah,” there isn’t one person who would have thought to instill his words into the common English lexicon. Instead, he writes:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(If you want to hear Dylan Thomas read his poem himself, click HERE)

The ability to capture such honest emotion so perfectly, in a mere set of cadenced words, is the reason why Thomas’ piece has been recited over and over again for the last near century.

While it may be difficult to capture a person’s life in a few short stanzas, I promise, those words will live on long after the Eleonor Rigby’s of the world have cleaned up the church.

About Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is also the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter.

One comment on “No One Reads Prose at a Funeral

  1. Pingback: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas | The Poetry Question

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