Occasions for Occasional Verse

The seasons of our lives, love to birth to death, bring moments of joy, of hope, of loss, occasions by which we learn to be in others, ourselves.  These occasions, the courting, the marriage, the birthday, the anniversary, the funeral and that final epitaph each deserve words appropriate to the occasion, suitable to the person.  If well considered, if finely crafted in verse, a person, by the art of words, might live into remembrance, meaningfully.   

This brief survey will dilate upon some few occasions, with some few models, and some few hints of how you might craft memorable verse, appropriate poems.

The Wedding Dance, circa 1566. Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530 – 1569). Occasions for Occasional Verse



a “wedding song”, a praise of the bride, a coupling by the force of Hymen, that daimon of wedding and marriage (Hymen is among the Erotes, brothers in Aphrodite’s entourage). 

The hymenaios is the procession of the bride to the groom’s house, their home. What follows?  The epithalamion, a song to accompany the bride to the bridal chamber, as here rendered by Catullus from a lost poem of Sappho.

            For Vinia comes by Manlius woo’d,
            As Venus on th’ Idalian crest,
            Before the Phrygian judge she stood
            And now with blessed omens blest,
            The maid is here to wed.

            Groom, now ’tis meet thou hither pace,
            With bride in genial bed to blend,
            For sheenly shines her flowery face
            Where the white chamomiles contend
            With poppies blushing red…

Other examples:

            Loe where she comes along with portly pace
            Lyke Phoebe from her chamber of the East,
            Arysing forth to run her mighty race,
            Clad all in white, that seemes a virgin best.

                                                            from Spencer’s “Epithalamion”

            O still miraculous May!O shining girl
            of time untarnished!O small intimate
            gently primeval hands,frivolous feet
            divine!O singular and breathless pearl!

                                                            from Cumming’s “Epithalamion”

In wedding and marriage, always the light touch, the lightly spirited praise; and remember, “always”, a wedding “toast”, never a drunken “roast”.  Leave history in the past, forgotten.  We have passed the altar, too late for ironic hate on anyone.  Remember, never have you been paid to be funny.  Be brief, be nice, be sweet, then, if you must, be quiet and keep your seat.  Now, if you, groom or bride, speak to your beloved, speak sincere in love, to link your words in time to rhyme, as by sponsalia:

            Shine your eyes on mine dear,
                And place your lips to mine;
            If you will ring your hand in mine
            We two alike a fruitful vine
                Shall twine our love in vows divine:
            Then I’ll be yours
                And you’ll be mine.

Peasant Wedding, 1567; Pieter Bruegal the Elder (1526/1530 – 1569). Occasions for Occasional Verse


In verse of BIRTH, the sound should seem an echo to the sense, brief, sweet, simple, suited to the first occasion, the first passage in the Book-of-Life, something alike this,

            “I have no name:
            I am but two days old.”
            What shall I call thee?
            “I happy am,
            ‘Joy’ is my name.”
            Sweet joy befall thee!

                                                            from Blake’s “Infant Joy”

Of birthdays, recall how in innocence you first came to read “Dick and Jane”: yes, without knowing irony, speak sincerely,

            Good Morn-ing
                        “good morn-ing”
            Morning, good morning
                        morning good morning
            The air is bringing
                        sweet birds a-singing
            “good morn-ing”
                        Good Morn-ing

BIRTHDAY and ANNIVERSARY mark life in time, the spring to winter, the bud to ice.  We all share the holidays of joy in the fresh air, in nature’s bounty, in life season-to-season, one into another, in love,

            Tell Cupid, Hymen, and tell Jove,
            With all the pow’rs of life and love,
            That I’d disdain to breathe or be,
            If Nancy was not born for me.

                                                            from Smart’s “On My Wife’s Birthday”

            in respect,

            … repeat with smiles and tears thereat
            His sweet songs that time shall not forget.
            Wait with us the call to come up higher,
            Life is not less, though, heaven is are higher.

                                                            from Whittier’s “O.W. Holmes on His Eightieth Birthday” with imp.

            in fun, (you might include the name, the date)

            “Its Bee-Bee’s birthday.  Come out.  Let’s play.”
            See!  Ducks pirouette, blue jays ballet;
            Stars, moons and planets through wickets croquet;
            Squirrels cabaret and roses bouquet
            On September Seventh, the Glorious Day.”

            in sentiment,

            May God grant you many years to live,
                For sure he must be knowing,
            The earth has angels all too few
                And heaven is overflowing.

                                                            Irish Traditional

            in humor,

            May your glass be ever full,
            May your roof be ever strong,
                May you be in heaven
            Before the Devil knows y’ur gone.

“True friends”, “growing older”, “a life of honor”, “the coming end” — but not too soon — are each fitting sentiment for the anniversary of birth and wedding; son and daughter, friend and lover, husband and wife, mother and father each would keep memory in words; yet, be brief.  In brevity, words will be remembered, kept, and treasured.  Always, at wedding, birth, birthday, anniversary, speak good.

The Fall of Icarus, circa 1590-1595; after an original by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Occasions for Occasional Verse


We Die a Second Time When Men Forget

‘Tis good not to be forgotten; better not to forget; best to be fine, to remember what is beautiful, and true, and good in those we love, in those who we admire.  Here, memory in verse; the forms and formal qualities best suited to time, place, situation: Each form is memory of a certain type.

            OBITUARY is a naming; the person, the family, the deeds, the personality.

            MEMORIAL VERSE is a reflection, sometimes, a conversation.

            EULOGY, from the Greek (true words), is a speech of praise, a tribute.

            ELEGY is a lament, a reflection, often metaphorical on death, on life and meaning.

            EPITAPH, from the Greek (over the tomb), is the summation of a life, of a death.

These forms, obituary, memorial verse, eulogy, elegy, epitaph, are not common memory, they are, when at their best, heightened language, poetry. 

When composing memorial verse, the words concluding a life, remember God, remember the good, remember in meter and rhyme the divine and the sublime, then, speak accordingly.

EULOGY is a song, a verse, a poem we share in common, at altar, at home, at grave, at pub, as here in song to ourselves, sung with others in chorus of sad acquaintance, “The Parting Glass”:

            Of all the money that e’er I spent
            I’ve spent it in good company.
            And all the harm that ever I did
            Alas it was to none but me.
            And all I’ve done for want of wit
            To memory now I can’t recall.
            So fill to me the parting glass,
            Good night and joy be with you all.

                                                            Irish Traditional

Lincoln spoke eulogy in remembrance of those Americans at Gettysburg defending liberty and national unity.

            Four score and seven years ago
            our fathers brought forth, upon this continent,
            a new nation, conceived in Liberty,
            and dedicated to the proposition
            that all men are created equal.

On a simple stone at Thermopylae Pass, atop the burial mound of the 300, these words in EPITAPH were cut. 

            Go, tell the Spartans, passerby,
            that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.


Words survive deeds, words survive all the acts of man; all that is remembered is remembered by word. 

Occasions for Occasional Verse, Bruegel
Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap, 1601; Circle of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Occasions for Occasional Verse

To some, life is earnest; to others, divine; for many, life is a joke; this may be so, and yet, when the joke is engraved into stone, the joke is often laughed at, seldom laughed with.  If in joke, be funny about your humor.  Begin in easy,

            My naked bones beneath are found,
            Quiet here below the ground;
            Won’t you with me please lie down,
            I promise not to make a sound.

In “epigram, epigraph, epitaph” words are spare.  Notice how a brief epitaph tells a long story in little, last words, “found, ground, down, sound”; how action is described in first words, “naked, quiet, you, promise”.  Structure and rhyme tell the story, structure and rhyme begin the action and conclude the point, as here we find in Belloc’s worldly, self-composed epitaph,

            When I am dead, I hope it may be said:
            “His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.” 

…and in Gay’s droll epitaph,

            Life is a jest, and all things show it;
            I thought so once, and now I know it.

MEMORIAL VERSE is now almost universally printed upon cards for keepsake, as here,

            Yes: Life is pleasure, life is grand,
                Life is sweet and fleeting;
            Alike a stroll upon the sand,
                Alike a heart that’s beating
            In metered pace, step after step,
                In measure through our days,
            We grow, we build, and then we ebb,
                And then we wash away.
            The waves are but the tips of sea
                That glisten in the sun
            To kiss the soles of you and me:
                All things in God are one.
            And here, with stars and ocean deep,
                We each awake to sleep.

In birthday, love-note, wedding, anniversary, death-day and beyond, best to know your audience.  If the author and the person honored are to be remembered, speak in meter and in rhyme as fits the patterns of mind; measure length to breath; be friendly, respectful; speak beautifully in truth, one good mind into another.  Wishing you fine words, memorably composed.

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Filming in the library of my home, “Occasional Poetry: How to Write Poems for any Occasion” soon to be available on the LearnAndKnow website. Photo: Courtesy of Thomas Bloom, Drake Wise Productions.

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Occasions for Occasional Verse
Occasions for Occasional Verse

Occasional Poetry: How to Write Poems for Any OccasionA Guide to Versification, with Helpful Tips, Advice, Examples.

In quick and easy lessons discover the poet in yourself, your ability to compose poems of birth, of love, of memorial and eulogy, of all occasions of life.  With easy instruction, learn step-by-step, by diagrams and numerous examples the techniques of poetry both classical and contemporary.  Each of the 22 chapters offers a “how to” of poetry technique, a “show-and-tell” of birthday poems, wedding poems, anniversary poems, et cetera.  Author Michael Curtis sympathetically guides the reader in the art and the craft of writing poems for any occasion.

For an excerpt from “Occasional Verse: How to Write Poems for Any Occasion“, you might visit The Society of Classical Poets online journal, and while there enjoy many excellent poems and useful essays concerning the art of verse.



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