When Nelson Mandela died last December, accolades and eulogies poured from all over the world. Politicians and analysts were eager to praise the great man's achievements and acknowledge his legacy both to his country and to the world.
During the memorial held for South Africa's first black president, some forceful speeches were delivered. Similarly, praiseful articles and poems flourished on the internet. Such a tribute poem was written by Maya Angelou on behalf of the people of the United States.
His day is done.
The news came on the wings of a wind, reluctant to carry its burden.
Nelson Mandela’s day is done.
The news, expected and still unwelcome, reached us in the United States, and suddenly our world became somber.
Our skies were leadened.
No sun outlasts its sunset, but it will rise again and bring the dawn.
Yes, Mandela’s day is done, yet we, his inheritors, will open the gates wider for reconciliation, and we will respond generously to the cries of Blacks and Whites, Asians, Hispanics, the poor who live piteously on the floor of our planet.
Nelson Mandela’s day is done, we confess it in tearful voices, yet we lift our own to say thank you.
Thank you our Gideon, thank you our David, our great courageous man.
We will not forget you, we will not dishonor you, we will remember and be glad that you lived among us, that you taught us, and that you loved us all.
Do not hesitate to click on the video and listen to Maya Angelou as she movingly delivers her tribute to Nelson Mandela.
Throughout the ages it has been common to honor a deceased person through speeches but also poetry. Oftentimes tribute poems took the more classical form of elegies. Some of the most well-known elegies in the English language are John Milton's pastoral elegy, Lycidas, or Thomas Gray's Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard.
Nowadays however tribute poems are often written in free verse. Thus, while Maya Angelou's poem relies on classical imagery, the overall style and rhythm are very much her own.
Here is a short tribute poem by Robert Burns:
Epitaph on a Friend
An honest man here lies at rest,
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm'd,
Few heads with knowledge so inform'd;
If there's another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.
So now poets I invite you to write a tribute poem to honor someone, famous or not, whom you admire and find worthy of your praise. Use whatever form you wish and do not feel awed by the poems I mentioned. I look forward to reading your poems.
After writing your poem, post your link below. And in the spirit of community, visit others as well.