Although much can be found in the earlier centuries, the 17th Century is foundational for the now-traditional Polish funeral song. During the Baroque Period, plagues, wars, famines, and massacres tormented all of Europe.
These compounding events forced the inevitability of death into a constant source of contemplation. People prepared for death as if the funeral would be the most significant event of their life.
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Traditionally, the funeral singer, or śpiewak-przewodnik, was a role performed only by men. Not only did they collect funeral songs, but they were also self-sacrificing and ready to share their time and knowledge at any given moment. Today, both men and women fulfill the role of śpiewak.
Common Polish Funeral Songs
Two types of music are commonly heard at Polish funerals today. One is a folk-style funeral song that includes a petition or plea for the deceased to enter the afterlife, as well as a farewell, and a reminder for survivors that their lives are either praised or punished upon death.
Other common funeral music now stems from famous musicians like Frank Sinatra, Andrea Bocelli, and Polish icons such as Czeslaw Niemen and Zbigniew Wodecki.
Virtual funeral tip: You can play traditional Polish funeral songs at a virtual funeral, too. If you do, make sure to check your microphone, speakers, and internet connection so your online attendees can hear everything loud and clear. A service like GatheringUs can help you fine-tune those details.
1. “Zmarły życia” by Franciszek Karpiński
In line with the Polish folk tradition, we have Franciszek Karpińsk’s poem-turned hymnal. Because religion inspired much of his work, many of his pieces were adapted into hymnals and songs.
2. “Unnamed Song” by Sandomierz
Here are some translated lyrics of this sad funeral song:
“All the housewives chase the pigs away,
Ino my Kasia sleeps.
I would need seven boys
to raise it for me.
Have you Janie seen you wake up?
Such a hard oversleep!
Your Kasia has fallen asleep forever.
She will not get up again.”
3. “Zegar Bije, Pamiętajcie o ścieżce Wieczności”
"The Clock is Beating, Remember the Path of Eternity" is an example of a song derived from a church leaflet instead of a hymnal—a quick Internet search located a few versions, including an upbeat and a folksy version and one suited for children’s learning.
4. “Krzyż jest źródłem” by Wspólnota Miłości Ukrzyżowanej
“The Cross Is the Source” is a secular song from the religious singing group, Crucified Love Community. Here are a few lines from their folksy-styled song:
“Jesus washed me with His Blood
He will heal my wounds
Jesus' cross is my hope
My clothes shine like snow
The Lamb's Blood washed them
He takes away all sin
5. “Cisza” by Nino Rota (Kang il Lee, trumpeter)
More and more, people are departing from traditional, folksy music once familiar to Polish funerals. Italian composer, Nino Rota’s, "Silence," is a song you might recall from the movie, "The Godfather." Without any lyrics, the mind and memories of a lost loved one go where they may.
6. “Mourner's Rhapsody” by Czeslaw Niemen
Czeslaw Niemen was an influential singer/songwriter in Polish secular music. His influence today is widespread among musicians who appreciated his originality and sound. You can find his music in both Polish and English.
7. “Lubię wracać tam, gdzie byłem” by Zbigniew Wodecki
Another famous Polish singer/songwriter is Zbigniew Wodecki. His song, “I like to come back where I have been,” is about wanting to experience the memories of breathless spirit, newfound love, and beautiful moments all over again.
Note: this may be an inadequate translation. Perhaps, “I’d like to return to where I’ve been” is more accurate to English speakers.
8. “My Way” by Frank Sinatra
Sinatra’s song is widely considered one of the best funeral songs. What’s interesting about the elements in his song, "My Way," is that it fulfills two of the three typical folk-style song ingredients. They are a ‘farewell’ and a ‘reminder’ to those listening as to how their actions in life affect their afterlife.
9. “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli
"Time to Say Goodbye" is another increasingly popular funeral song in Poland. Similar to “My Way” it also fulfills two of the original components of a folk song. You’ll hear both the ‘farewell’ and ‘reminder’ elements similarly.
If the service for your loved one occurs in a church setting, Bocelli's masterful singing is useful to accompany a funeral slideshow.
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Polish-Catholic Funeral Songs
Polish-Catholic funeral songs come from three sources. They are centuries-old hymnal books—the foundation of funeral music in Poland, wartime or revolutionary songs, and leaflets that were distributed at fairs or other religious gatherings long ago. Examples of each follow.
10. “Witaj Matko uwielbiona”
“Hello Mother, Glorified” is one of the longer songs herein. It recalls the torture, pain, and despair that Mother Mary went through to care and love for Jesus. The song ends with a plea for Mary to invoke her son for humanity’s sake.
11. “Serdeczna Matko” by The Cathedral Singers
Written by Alojzy Feliński in 1816, "Beloved Mother" was originally a wartime song but didn't gain popularity until Antoni Górecki altered a few lyrics. In 1861, when the tsars banned the song, Catholic parishioners latched on to it in a kind of subversive unity. Since then, it's undergone many changes throughout the years.
At the end of the funeral and after the priest changes his vestments, the congregation typically sings, “Farewell.” It begins with a call to heaven to hear the prayers of the congregation.
13. “Niech aniołowie zawiodą cię do raju”
“Let the angels lead you to paradise” commonly follows “Pożegnanie” as the casket is taken out of the church.
14. “Jezu, Tyś cały krwią zbroczony” by Sr. Ancilla Congregation of Sr. Passionists
Here are a few lines from “Jesus, You are all covered in blood”:
“Your heart is wounded with a spear; it is open to all people.
Hide my heart in your heart and let it be yours forever.”
15. “Ach Ojcze pełen litości”
“Ah Father full of pity” is commonly sung during a funeral mass. In it, the survivors pray for the soul of the departed by exalting the temper and love of a God who’ll bestow grace on their loved one.
16. “Bądź mi litościw”
The song, “Be merciful to me” asks for pity, a washing of sins and guilt, and forgiveness for life’s transgressions. It is yet another song familiar to Polish-Catholic masses.
17. “Do Ciebie z serca wołamy Panie” by J. Siedlecki
Written in 1959, “We cry to you from the heart” is a congregation’s plea for the trust and faith in a God filled with grace. The song continues to honor God with reverence for a place in which to place their loved one.
18. “Racz wiekuiste dać odpoczywanie”
“Give Eternal Rest” is unlike the other songs in this list. Most ask for a blessing or release of their loved one’s sins, while this song calls to God to release the souls awaiting entrance into heaven so that they may have peace, rest, and eternal salvation by His side.
19. “Przez czyśćcowe upalenia” by Jan Siedlecki
Missionary priests in Kraków, Poland, helped J. Siedlecki publish his work in 1908. His song, "By purgatory burns," includes the congregation's help to ask Mary for help in the salvation of humanity.
20. “Już idę do grobu smutnego”
Church songbooks dating back to the 16th Century include songs like, "Already I'm going to the dark and sad tomb." The lyrics avow the certainty of one's path to God and hope and gratitude for the loved ones left behind.
21. “Będę śpiewał Tobie mocy moja” by Zespót dzeicięcy Fatimskie Nutki, Misart
“I will sing to you my strength” is a short song: “I will sing to you, my strength, you, Lord, are my hope, I trust in you, and I will not fear.”
An acoustic guitar and violin accompany the chorus in this version.
22. “Przy spuszczaniu ciała do grobu”
After a Catholic funeral, "Let us bury this body in a grave" is chanted graveside as more of a sung prayer than a traditional hymn. The witnesses then repeat the chants of the priest.
23. “Droga Krzyżowa” by (originally) Father K. Poczek
"The Way of the Cross" is another funerary story/song that came by way of a church leaflet versus a hymnal. The runtime on it is well over ten minutes, but whoever sings the lament for the deceased not only ensures their passageway to heaven, they also ensure the deceased is deserving of salvation in heaven.
24. “Polska Pieśń Pogrzebowa” by Paulina Kuc
The dominating sounds from a pipe organ inside an acoustic-friendly church create mesmerizing chiffs, blooms, and coughs. Paired with Paulina Kuc’s voice, “Polish Funeral Song” becomes an echoing, but soulful rendition that echoes the sorrow.
25. “Ty Tylko Mnie Poprowadź” by Paulina Kuc
“You Only Lead Me” is a song about following the word of God and entrusting your fate to Him. Here are a few lines from the piece:
“You only lead me, My Lord
Lead him as you lead him
Through the simplest possible roads
And show me one, this one of them
And when he hears your voice
And I will feed on it every day ”
26. “Dobry Jezu”
Monophonic religious chant (i.e. Gregorian Chant) dates to the 9th Century and is intrinsic to the Catholic Church.
“Good Jesus” is chanted by a cortège (procession) as they carry the deceased from their home to the church.
27. “Jezu w Ogrójcu mdlejący” by Michael Daleszczyk
Another funeral cortège chant following removing a decedent from their home is “Jesus in Gethsemane, fainting.”
Search online for pipe organist Michael Daleszczyk’s rendition. You’ll discover that it’s both melancholy and beautiful.
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The Cultural Role of Polish Funeral Songs
Polish funeral songs have a rich and complicated cultural history. Whether they are familiar or religious, the intent and religious origins have sculpted their presence in funerary services. Nonetheless, we hope that you find appropriate songs for funeral services for any loved one of Polish origin.
Writers note: many of the song translations were achieved through online help. Although they were cross-referenced to find suitable wording, the translations herein may include subtle discrepancies.
- Adamowski, J. (n.d.). Polish Funeral Songs. Kultura Ludowa. Retrieved October 06, 2020, from kulturaludowa.pl/artykuly/polskie-piesni-pogrzebowe-jan-admowski/
- Author Unknown. (2020). Anglicy puszczają Sinatrę, Polacy wolą Niemena. Oto pogrzebowa lista przebojów. Kultura Onet. kultura.onet.pl/muzyka/wiadomosci/muzyka-na-pogrzebie-najczesciej-grane-utwory-na-pogrzebach-w-polsce/6xqsqd1
- Author Unknown. (n.d). Już idę do grobu smutnego. Piesni-Religijne. from piesni-religijne.pl/juz-ide-do-grobu-smutnego/
- Author Unknown. (n.d.). Polish Hymn Tunes. Musica Sacra Forum Church Music Association of America. forum.musicasacra.com/forum/discussion/3139/polish-hymn-tunes/p1
- Author Unknown, (n.d.). Religijne - Będę śpiewał Tobie, mocy moja - tekst piosenki na Tekstowo. www.tekstowo.pl/piosenka,religijne,bede_spiewal_tobie__mocy_moja.html
- Author Unknown. (n.d.) Śpiew Kościelny - forum o tradycyjnych piesniach koscielnych i chorale gregorianskim. spiewnik.katolicy.net/index.php?topic=1560.0
- Author Unknown (n.d.). Śpiewnik kościelny/Pogrzebmyż to ciało w grobie. Wikisource. pl.wikisource.org/wiki/%C5%9Apiewnik_ko%C5%9Bcielny/Pogrzebmy%C5%BC_to_cia%C5%82o_w_grobie
- Author Unknown. (n.d.) Zegar Bije. Edumuz. www.edumuz.pl/produkty/441/zegar-bije
- Dahlig, P. (n.d.). Traditional Musical Cultures in Central-Eastern Europe: Ecclesiastical and Folk Transmission. books.google.com/books?id=s6IEh7b6B-QC
- Już idę do grobu smutnego. (n.d.). Retrieved October 06, 2020, from piesni-religijne.pl/juz-ide-do-grobu-smutnego/
- Listening is everything. (n.d.). Spotify. www.spotify.com/us/
- Nakielski, C. J. (2018). A scholarly edition of Suita Maryjna, a Polish Marian suite for treble chorus, string quartet and two flutes, by Irena Pfeiffer. University of Iowa. doi.org/10.17077/etd.6mbm4x7w
- Nowicka-Jeżowa, A. (1992). Musicus mortalis Musical Iconography and the Baroque Conceit. Silo Tips. silo.tips/download/musicus-mortalis-musical-iconography-and-the-baroque-conceit