Maya Angelou is one of America’s most celebrated, inspiring poets and civil rights activists. The indelible combinations of elegant but powerful metaphors created a national reverence for her written word. Each line of poetry is a panorama of highly sought-after painted rhythms, whether in times of inspiration or of great sorrow.
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Angelou was both a gifted writer and sage. Readers, time and again, sit with her words, seeking truths sometimes painful, other times beautiful, though always memorable. Choose from any one of the following to add that same wisdom to your loved one’s funeral.
Inspirational Maya Angelou Funeral Poems
Maya Angelou’s poetry is intense, resounding, and inspirational, making it an ideal addition to a funeral service or eulogy.
1. “When I Think About Myself”
“When I Think About Myself” is about observing one’s own life. Here, she looks back at the pain almost in disbelief. She should have been dancing the dance, and singing the song.
A dance that's walked
A song that's spoke,
I laugh so hard I almost choke
When I think about myself.
Perhaps the poem could be both poignant and inspirational if referenced as survival through amazing odds.
2. “Phenomenal Woman”
By contrast, conventional women and men narrowly experience life. So, in “Phenomenal Woman,” the reader gets to hear how what’s unconventional is far more intriguing than the rest.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
It’ll work in a eulogy written for the mysteriously wonderful woman who may not have been idolized by usual standards but was phenomenal without trying.
3. “Touched By an Angel”
Here’s a poem that exemplifies a love that “sets you free” from pain, fear, and timidity. Because the love represented here is strong without being sexual or intimate, and because it’s a love that finds you later on, it’ll work as part of your eulogy for a partner or perhaps a dear friend.
4. “Caged Bird”
What makes “Caged Bird” an inspirational poem is that although one bird is free and the other is caged, the caged bird doesn’t stop singing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
Few people possess that kind of strength and perseverance. Instead, they see that silence is a failure of what’s intrinsic to oneself—freedom to live a life of one’s own volition.
5. “On the Pulse of Morning”
Did your friend or loved one reject the path laid out for them? If so, consider reading the entirety of this poem at their funeral with a short preface to explain what made them such an extraordinary force of nature.
6. “Still I Rise”
Similarly, “Still I Rise” is about tenacity, strength, and fearlessness. Angelou writes,
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Read this as a funeral poem for that towering spirit or presence who wasn’t intimidated to live their truth. Use it as the backdrop for the story of a person who was relentlessly moving forward no matter the obstacles that appeared.
7. “Human Family”
“Human Family” works for that person who sought to bring others together despite their differences, whether actual or perceived.
I note the obvious differences
Between each sort and type,
But we are more alike, my friends,
Than we are unalike.
It’s a short poem that can be read in under a minute, making it a perfect addition to a more extended eulogy. Consider reciting it initially, then explaining the verse in relation to your loved one’s life.
8. “Woman Work”
Work anxiety is laid to rest when Angelou describes the sweet pleasures in life that bring rest or solemnity. The contrast makes this poem ideal for that person you loved who was at once a tireless worker but also saw the beauty in nature.
Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.
Sad Maya Angelou Funeral Poems
Though poems about death are sad, much of Maya Angelou’s work still possesses a kind of hopefulness. Take a look.
Angelou’s “Refusal” is a short poem about death and longing. Although the speaker desires nothing more than to know their lips, hands, and laughter once again, they’ll defy their “body’s haste” and refuse to die quickly.
What surety is there
That we will meet again,
On other worlds some
Future time undated.
For those of you who’ve lost a brother or someone with similar familiarity, “Kin” is the poem that will speak to you. In it, there seems to be a twilight of fond memories, ones that supersede their loss or abandonment. The speaker returns to that moment of ease and play, reminiscing.
I hear again the laughter
Of children and see fireflies
Bursting tiny explosions in
An Arkansas twilight.
11. “When Great Trees Fall”
The tree in Angelou’s poem begins as a metaphor for an important figure in one’s life. The tree sets the scene to discuss the impact of great souls on other’s lives.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
12. “In and Out of Time”
One thing that stands out in the poem is how much struggle love can endure. Angelou captures that sentiment so sweetly and with a kind of pathetic fallacy where the sun and mist are both revealing and equally harboring.
13. “I’ve Learned”
“I’ve learned” is more of a lesson than a poem, but just about anything that Angelou wrote or said is poetic. It’ll work for any eulogy that reflects on how your friend or loved one became a fortress in your love. One that you never questioned and will forever miss.
I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow... I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
“Savior” laments those that have confounded the process or gotten in the way between Maya and the Savior. She recognizes the tablets, stained glass, and footprints of past conversations but longs for a visit, one that’ll reveal and give clarity.
Visit us again, Savior.
Your children, burdened with
disbelief, blinded by a patina
15. “Mother: A Cradle to Hold Me”
This Angelou poem will work at the funeral for a mother because it captures the child’s perspective and love for their mother uniquely.
Let me thank you
That my selfishness, ignorance, and mockery
Did not bring you to
Discard me like a broken doll
Which had lost its favor.
“Alone” is equally a reflection on life and introspection to one’s own life. She realizes that every part of living requires the existence of others.
Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.
In that case, the poem works for the matriarch or patriarch that always banded the family as a singular unit. Perhaps you deemed them the “glue” that bonded you together.
17. “Song for the Old Ones”
Much of Maya Angelou’s poetry is centered around her life and experience as a black woman in America. Here, in “Song for the Old Ones,” she gives credit to her ancestors as those who paved the way for her life today.
I understand their meaning
it could and did derive
from living on the edge of death
They kept my race alive.
Perhaps this poem reminds you of your grandmother or grandfather. If so, read it for them as part of the eulogy to honor their sacrifices.
18. “Preacher, Don’t Send Me”
The speaker doesn’t want the same life filled with rats and grits, nor does the speaker want promises that seem too good to be true. Instead, they want to be surrounded by family, kindness, music, and the sweet autumnal air.
I'd call a place
where families are loyal
and strangers are nice,
where the music is jazz
and the season is fall.
Poems for a Funeral Service or Eulogy
Choosing the right poem to add to your loved one’s eulogy isn’t an easy choice. So, for more information on short eulogy examples or how to plan a memorial service, click on our link for helpful tips and ideas.
- My Poetic Side, My Poetic Side, n.d., mypoeticside.com/poets/maya-angelou-poems