Tradition, heritage, imagery, contemplation, and sometimes some revelry are common characteristics of famous and traditional Scottish poems for funerals. 

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Scottish funeral poetry is a reminder that in all things, there is joy—and when there's not, there's sure to be some humor somewhere.

Scottish Funeral Poems for Mom or Grandma

Note the traditional Scots language used in each of the poems below, blending imagery and heritage with thoughtful contemplation. 

1. "Departure and Departure and…" by George Bruce

"Departure and Departure and…" unveils the imagery of a train skirting the coastline, disappearing into an abyss of waves. The train, boarded by what is assumed to be the matriarch, heads off into the night under a brilliantly white moon, never to be seen again.

2. "Land o' the Leal" by Caroline Oliphant, Baroness Nairne

The Grey Dogs sang Lady Nairne's poem "Land o' the Leal" for the movie soundtrack to the Outlaw King, a historical drama based on the famed Robert the Bruce. 

As the song is about one’s departure to a land of the faithful, it also works as a Scottish funeral song for any matriarch in your family, even though the author initially wrote the poem about a child. 

3. "The Licht Nichts" by Violet Jacob

Violet Jacob sympathized with those who were less fortunate than her, especially the vagabonds and single mothers. She published many genres of poetry throughout her life, not discounting themes of grief and sorrow.

“Ye've left the sun an' the can'le-licht an' the starlicht,
The woods baith green and sere,
And yet I hear ye singin' doon the braes
I’ the licht nichts o’ the year.”

4. "Safe Hame" by George Harvie

Harvie is an obscure poet, left off some of the prominent compilations of famous Scottish poets but notes his optimistic tone. In it, the spouse is journeying home to his rejoin bride, which could indicate the anticipation of uniting with each other in the afterlife.

5. "Hurlygush" by Maurice Lindsay

While not a typical funeral poem, consider "Hurlygursh" because of its tone, subject matter, and capacity to invoke reflection or contemplation. 

6. "Hairst" by Margaret Gilles Brown

"Hairst" is about the harvest and could be read symbolically for one's adolescent life or current rural lifestyle. Note Margaret Gilles Brown's use of metaphor where the last of is also the finality of life. 

Scottish Funeral Poems for Dad or Grandpa

Below you'll find poems that step away from the traditional Scots tongue to use English as the written language. Look for one that speaks to your loved one's personality, occupation, or interests in life.

7. "Dignity" by G.F. Dutton

Contemporary poet G.F. Dutton found great influence in natural environments and their varying connections with one another. His style is ripe with the use of both metaphor and humor.

"Dignity" will work for that patriarch who was an avid explorer, one who questioned with curious intent and imitated a carefree existence with every breath.

8. "Requiem" by Robert Louis Stevenson

“Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.”

The balance of the poem is about a requested epitaph, one that invokes the poet's role as both sailor and hunter returning home.

9. "Winter: A Dirge" by Robert Burns

Burns's 'Winter: A Dirge" is best suited for that elder patriarch who lived a long, fulfilling life and is almost happy about the next leg of the journey. 

The poem combines a cold, wintry finality with a positive, if almost joyful, readiness. 

10. "Crowdieknowe" by Hugh MacDiarmid

Hugh MacDiarmid wasn't well-liked or even revered by most of his peers as he was a Communist and member of the Scottish Nationalist Party.

Although his political affiliation was tough to swallow, his poetry, including "Crowdieknowe," was filled with a touch of snark and a bit of surprise.

11. "The Hills" by George Macdonald

“For I am always climbing hills,
From the known to the unknown-
Surely, at last, on some high peak,
To find my Father's throne,
Though hitherto I have only found
His footsteps in the stone!”

12. "Night Fishing" by Chris Powici

"Night Fishing" is an ideal poem for that fisherman grandpa. Read it aloud for his eulogy or put it on the front of a funeral program so that others can hold onto this beautifully descriptive fishing adventure.

13. "The Gap Between My Fingers" Chrys Salt

Late in life, and often after the death of a parent, children notice their faces in themselves and other inherited traits. But Salt's revelation or understanding is more than the characteristics of a hand—it's also the last and most poignant days those hands held a pen or folded together after a poor diagnosis.

14. "The Late Swallow" by Edwin Muir

Muir's "The Late Swallow" remarks of old age and a kind of holding on that our loved ones sometimes do. 

In the poem, the swallow is the last to leave; his friends have all headed south, and yet he clings for some reason to the waning day. 

Funny Scottish Funeral Poems

There's a theme here, either of rotten husbands and wives or just plain rottenness.

15. "Epitaph on a Henpecked Country Squire" by Robert Burns

Given the latent or implied chauvinism, the poem may not be reasonable for all personalities.

“As father Adam first was fool'd,
(A case that's still too common,)
Here lies man a woman ruled,
The devil ruled the woman.”

16. "A Prayer, In the Prospect of Death" by Robert Burns

Robert Burns's poem highlights those who seek forgiveness at the last minute after having lived a life that's perhaps less pious than most,

Note the solid reference for the many women who, as the poet writes, led him astray.

17. John Randall Miser - Epitaph

Written as an epitaph for John Randall Miser, this snarky little poem fits any persnickety, albeit terrible human.

“He was mean and rotten to his wife, 
And soon will be forgotten. 
He was mean and rotten to his wife, 
But now he's only rotten.”

18. "On a Schoolmaster" by Robert Burns

Burns's clever description of a horrible teacher is every parent or child's nightmare. At least his next destination is a given.

“Here lie Willie Michie's banes; 
O, Satan! when ye tak' him, 
Gi' him the schoolin' o' your weans, 
For clever de'ils he'll mak' them.”

Short Scottish Funeral Poems

Although the poems below are short, they're filled with imagery and metaphor, leaving room for contemplation.

20. "Song" by William Soutar

"Song" by William Soutar recognizes all of life is connected; its ends and beginnings, life and death, that which gives or takes, and the fruited weight on a struggling bough.

21. "Life" by Hamish Scott

Scott's poem recognizes that most people go about life waiting to see what is and what isn't—without giving it much thought.

“Lik a blinn body finin
their wey tae the ootgang
A mak ma wey throu this life 
waitin tae see whit is ayont”

22. "The Bird That Was Trapped Has Flown" by James Robertson

Robertson's "The Bird That Was Trapped Has Flown" reaches similar revelations about the connections in life. This time, all things end, especially the most challenging days and the moments of the unknown.

23. "Epitaph on My Own Friend" by Robert Burns

Written in tribute to a kind and dear person, “Epitaph on My Own Friend" extolled the virtues of honesty, godliness, kinship, kindness, wisdom, and spiritedness.

Burns goes on to write he's not sure what happens next—and hopes it's bliss, but he's confident that his friend lived the best life possible while he could. 

24. "Epigram on Parting with a Kind Host in the Highlands" by Robert Burns

Burns hopes that when the gates of heaven open, all he'll need is a piece of the Highlands to be happy.

“When Death's dark stream I ferry o'er, 
A time that surely shall come; 
In Heaven itself I'll ask no more 
Than just a Highland welcome.”

Scottish Farewell Poems

Scottish farewell poems are one part “finite sadness” and another part "see you soon."

25. "Gude Night, and Joy be wi ye All" by Alexander Boswell

Boswell's "Gude Night" poem isn't sad. Instead, it expresses memories of joy and gratitude. Read it during a loved one's eulogy or at a celebration of life ceremony. 

Note that the expressions and sentiments include a good life, a good death, and a fond farewell. 

26. "Consolation" by Robert Louis Stevenson

For some, the most challenging part of death is not seeing the ones you love. Yet, "Consolation" offers that being in a loved one's company is just around the bend—you just have to live your life until the day you'll see them again.

27. "Winged Skye" by Donald Smith

Smith's poem embraces the Highland Mountains in death. "Winged Skye" evokes imagery of the rain and wind, earth, river, and sky.

The three birds mentioned are the raven, the dove, and the eagle, each indicative of the untamed, holy, and revered.

28. "Farewell to Eliza" by Robert Burns

In "Farewell Eliza," the poet must leave his love behind. He's setting sail across death's sea, increasing their divide. A word or two, he'll no longer hear, for death's his newfound guide.

29. "Farewell to Ayrshire" by Robert Burns

Here's a look at a sad farewell poem as the poet remarks on the places and people he'll miss the most.

“Scenes of woe and scenes of pleasure,
Scenes that former thoughts renew,
Scenes of woe and scenes of pleasure
Now a sad and last adieu.”

Scottish Funerals and Traditions

Ancient pagan traditions and Evangelical views shaped Scottish funeral traditions. In Scotland, death is rarely something to be sad about but having a "good death" is most desirable. Burials are still the most traditional method for laying a loved one to rest, followed by celebrations of music and dancing.

Visit Cake for more insight on funeral poems and other Scottish traditions.


Sources:
  1. "A couple of earlier poems." Docplayer, Docplayer, n.d. docplayer.net
  2. Bruce, G. (1999). Pursuit: poems 1986-1998. Scottish Cultural Press. 
  3. Burns Country, Robert Burns, n.d. robertburns.org
  4. Burns, R. Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect. Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect - National Library of Scotland, Digital.nls, n.d. digital.nls.uk
  5. "Discover Poetry in the World's Leading Resource for Scottish Poetry." Scottish Poetry Library. Scottish Poetry Library. n.d. scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk
  6. Salt, Chrys. "The Gap Between My Fingers." Chrys Salt, Chrys Salt. N.d. chryssalt.com
  7. Scottish Humor – Graveyard Humor, Rampant Scotland, n.d. rampantscotland.com
  8. "Scottish poem / verse suitable for funeral." Three Towners, Three Towners, n.d. threetowners.net
  9. "A Sad and Last Adieu: Poems for Funerals." Scots Language, Scots Language, n.d. media.scotslanguage.com
  10. Scots Language Center, Scots Language, n.d. scotslanguage.com

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