E is for Eulogy

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Eulogy praises somebody or something, often lauding the recently deceased. A person eulogizes as a speech or written tribute intended to honor.  This tribute is usually offered at a funeral, though a eulogy might mark the conclusion of a career or in recognition of noble deeds.

Similarly, an elegy is a song or poem lamenting loss. Elegies express grief. These tributes take the tone of remorse and melancholy. Elegies are sometimes inscribed on tombstones. Thomas Gray wrote this elegy. “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, the lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea, the ploughman homeward plods his weary way, and leaves the world to darkness and to me.”

Although elegy and eulogy are similar in intent, eulogy does not need to take poetic form. A eulogy’s intention is to celebrate. Eulogies can bring to light accomplishments and keep the memories of the deceased alive. By nature, eulogies are optimistic and ease the bereavement of the depressed family. The word “eulogy” derives from ancient Greek and translates loosely to “speak well.”

Twenty-five years after the death of William Shakespeare, William Basse wrote a compelling eulogy when he suggested the Elizabethan bard’s grave should have been buried next to Spenser, Chaucer, and Beaumont in Westminster Abbey.

Walt Whitman wrote “O Captain” as a tribute to Abraham Lincoln. “O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done, the ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won, the port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting, while follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; But O heart! Heart! Heart!…” Further in the work, Whitman refers to the deceased president as “dear father.”

To clarify further, eulogies and elegies are not obituaries. An obituary is a short, published biography recounting the life of the recently departed.