Write Your Own Epitaph Poetry

When writing epitaph poetry, you can use quite a bit of creative license. An epitaph poem is usually short, but it can be long if it will not be inscribed on a tombstone or other place where there is limited space. Epitaph poetry is used to honor those who have passed away, but it is also sometimes assigned in class to help children think about characters in a book in a different light. Some teachers have the kids in class write a "smoker's epitaph" to drive home the idea that smoking is hazardous to your health; other teachers like the epitaph poem because it helps the kids write a short summary about a character in history that made a difference. Whatever your reason for writing an epitaph poem, you can follow these simple guidelines.

  • Write down a list of qualities of the person honored or discussed in the epitaph. Get detailed. Think of the things that mattered most, but also look for unique qualities that the person possessed.
  • Create a detailed list of accomplishments. Look for ideas from the person's friends, hobbies, livelihood and family situation.
  • Ask yourself what that person would want said about herself to others in a crowd. How would she like to be remembered? What was important to her?
  • Look for a way to weave humor into the poem, if this is acceptable. Did the deceased have a special penchant for something the readers would find funny, such as a love for Hostess Twinkies even though the deceased was a food critic? Did Uncle Jimmy love those dogs of his so much that everyone joked they were his children? Humor can help in the grieving process if used sparingly and respectfully.

Now write your poem in the format that feels most natural to you. Many people find comfort in rhyming, structured stanzas of four lines each; others prefer a freeform poem. Pick and choose from your lists as you formulate your epitaph, looking for inspiration for lines that are both somber and enlightening.

Keep the tone positive, respectful and inspirational. Stay away from anything dark or too revealing; you want to preserve the honor of the deceased. If you are considering publishing poems that will serve as epitaphs, make sure you check your facts and run the epitaph by family members before doing so; you want to make sure you show respect for the family before you make anything public.

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