A eulogy is a speech, or short piece of writing, created in honor of someone who has recently died. Alternatively, a eulogy might be written for someone moving, leaving a job, or making a significant life change.
It is very likely that the majority of readers have been exposed, at one time or another, to a eulogy of some sort. It might be of the sorrowful variety, read at a funeral, or it might be something less dark and more celebratory as someone is moving on to a new phase in their life. Eulogies can be incredibly challenging to write, depending on how well the writer knows and understands the person they’re writing about. If the writer is quite close to the person their eulogizing the speech might suffer, just as it might if it was on the other end of the spectrum, and the writer is too distant from the subject.
Explore the term 'Euology'
Definition and Explanation of Eulogy
The word “eulogy” comes from the Greek “εὐλογία” meaning “praise”. They have been part of funerary services all over the world throughout time. They sometimes take the form of written poems or essays, but they are commonly associated with emotional, devotional speeches read over the deceased’s body or grave. Some of the most famous eulogies have bee
Alternatively, these pieces of writing might be composed to honor someone who is still alive. They are created to draw attention to someone’s accomplishments, personal attributes, and future impact (whether dead or alive). Eulogies are given in different forms and at different times during funerals depending on the country its taking place in. In the United States, they’re usually read during or after a wake. Alternatively, they might be said during the service.
Examples of Eulogies in Literature
On Mr. Wm. Shakespeare, he died in April 1616 by William Basse
One of the most famous literary eulogies is that written by William Basse about William Shakespeare. It was written, unusually, 25 years after the Bard died. Here are the short lines of the eulogy:
Renowned Spenser, lie a thought more nigh
To learned Chaucer, and rare Beaumont lie
A little nearer Spenser to make room
For Shakespeare in your threefold, fourfold tomb.
Betwixt this day and that by fate be slain…
Sleep rare tragedian Shakespeare, sleep alone,
That unto us and others it may be
Honor hereafter to be laid by thee.
Another unusual aspect of this eulogy is that Shakespeare is not the first, second, or third person mentioned in the text. His name isn’t in the speech until the fourth line. Basse begins by speaking about the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey and asserting that Shakespeare should’ve been buried there, alongside Spenser and Chaucer, rather than in Stratford-upon-Avon. He is “sleeping alone” in Stratford.
A Farewell by Alfred Lord Tennyson
This poem is a different type of eulogy, one that is focused on saying goodbye to nature rather than a person or period in one’s life. Here are two stanzas from the poem:
Flow down, cold rivulet, to the sea,
Thy tribute wave deliver:
No more by thee my steps shall be,
For ever and for ever.
Flow, softly flow, by lawn and lea,
A rivulet then a river:
Nowhere by thee my steps shall be
For ever and for ever.
Tennyson uses repetition to empathize with the fact that he’s leaving and never planning to return to this place. As one would expect, he accomplishes this beautifully. Once he dies, his experiences will be lost, but nature will remain as it always has, growing and expanding.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
In this book, readers can find an example of a eulogy for the character Kurtz. Marlow tries to figure out the best kind of eulogy that he could create for Kurtz but in the end, Kurtz’ “Intended” eulogizes him instead. Here are a few lines:
And of all this,’ she went on mournfully, ‘of all his promise, and of all his greatness, of his generous mind, of his noble heart, nothing remains—nothing but a memory. You and I—
Examples of Eulogies in History
President Reagan’s Eulogy for the Challenger Space shuttle crew
The Challenger space shuttle disaster was one of the most shocking and truly horrifying events in modern American history. The shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing the seven astronauts on board. President Ronald Reagan postponed the State of the Union and chose instead to address the American public from the Oval Office. There, he read a speech written by Peggy Noonan. It is now considered to be one of the most significant speeches of the 20th century. Here is an excerpt:
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by how they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”
Eulogy for Diana, Princess of Wales
Princess Diana’s funeral was held on Saturday, September 6th, 1997 in London. Her brother, Charles, was responsible for giving the eulogy. His words have become tied to her life and her treatment by the royal family, the public, and the press. Here are the most famous lines from the speech:
It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this – a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age […]
Within the speech, he also mentions her much-loved attributes, her selflessness, and humanity. She was the “essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty… a standard-bearer for the rights of the truly downtrodden”.
Eulogy, Elegy, or Obituary?
When reading poetry, historical speeches, and attending real-life events, it is relatively easy to mistake obituaries for elegies for eulogies. An elegy is a poem written in tribute to someone who has died while obituaries are published, mini-biographies about someone who has recently died. The latter often appears in newspapers, or nowadays, online. Elegies are usually published as well. In contrast, eulogies are usually spoken (and perhaps later written down/published). The delivery of a eulogy is as important as the words it contains. This makes it incredibly important that the person writing/speaking the eulogy should have some relationship to the person who has died.
Some words that readers might find paired with eulogy include paean, accolade, commendation, tribute, and testimonial. Some of these are more suited for funerals while others are associated with celebratory events like promotions and graduations.
Why Do Writers Write Eulogies
Eulogies are fairly self-explanatory. Writers dedicate themselves to writing eulogies in order to honor those who have passed away or celebrate those who are moving on with their lives. They are ways of coping with loss, bringing someone’s accomplishments into the light, and bringing joy to all those who are seeking solace in the wake of loss. Eulogies are important parts of funerals (as see above) as well as other pivotal moments in life.
Related Literary Terms
- Elegy— a poem or song that is written in dedication to someone who has died.
- Audience—the group for which an artist or writer makes a piece of art or writes.
- Biography— is an account or description of a person’s life, literary, fictional, historical, or popular in nature, written by a biographer.
- Epitaph —a short lyric written in memory of someone who has died. Sometimes, epitaphs serve as elegies.