Definition of Eulogy
Known as homily, the term eulogy originates from a Greek word eulogia, which means to praise somebody or something. A eulogy is a literary device that is a laudatory expression in a speech, or a written tribute to a person deceased recently. We can say, it is a commendation or high praise intended to give honor, generally, to a dead family member, or a loved one, or it is a tribute given to a dead person at his/her funeral. Eulogies are also paid as tributes to living persons; for instance, one can dedicate it to his retired colleagues, bosses or employees for winning respectable position and noble deeds. Hence, in general, it is a gesture of honoring somebody.
Difference between Eulogy, Elegy and Obituary
All these three terms are often confused due to their meanings. A eulogy and an elegy are similar because both are written for dead ones, but unlike a eulogy, an elegy is a song or a poem with a lamenting tone that expresses loss of a family member or a loved one. A eulogy, in contrast, is a speech or a written tribute to deceased as well as living persons, and it is not necessarily in the form of a poem. However, an obituary is a completely different term than eulogy and elegy, as it is a published biography intended to recount the life of someone recently died.
Examples of Eulogy from Literature
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.
(From “On Mr. Wm. Shakespeare, he died in April 1616” by William Basse)
Basse has dedicated this eulogy to Shakespeare after 25 years of his death, and suggested that his grave should have been next to Spenser, Chaucer and Beaumont in Westminster Abbey.
I thought of Thee, my partner and my guide,
As being past away.—Vain sympathies!…
Still glides the Stream, and shall for ever glide;
The Form remains, the Function never dies;
While we, the brave, the mighty, and the wise,
We Men, who in our morn of youth defied
The elements, must vanish;—be it so!
Through love, through hope, and faith’s transcendent dower,
We feel that we are greater than we know.
(From “After Thought” by William Wordsworth)
Wordsworth has written this eulogy in the honor of his close friend. The speaker is recalling his deceased friend’s memories in that though he is physically no more with him but his noble deeds will never die.
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!…
(From “O Captain, O Captain” by Walt Whitman)
In this poem, Whitman pays tribute to American president Abraham Lincoln, whom many Americans recognize as their hero. The speaker calls him as a captain and then calls “dear father!” He pays high regards to his captain for making mission successful and the services he has done for his country “From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “A Farewell” is also a eulogy in which the poet himself says goodbye to nature. He describes this fact beautifully that death is inevitable and nobody can escape it. He says goodbye to trees, seas and rivers and other elements of nature because he will die and will be forgotten except his good deeds but nature will remain the same forever, “A thousand suns will stream on thee/ A thousand moons will quiver;/ But not by thee my steps shall be/ Forever and forever.”
Function of Eulogy
Eulogies are written or spoken memorials that help remind happy and good memories of the dead persons. In literary works, eulogies can make the dead persons appear more real and good to all those people who have not seen or known them. Many writers and poets have written eulogies in the honor of famous literary figures. Another function of eulogy is keeping the memories of dead ones alive. As we have learned from the above mentioned examples that the nature of a eulogy is optimistic, it is very helpful in boosting the morale of the depressed family.