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The Poetry of Calvin Coolidge’s Funeral

The Poetry of Calvin Coolidge's Funeral

Poetry played a large role in Calvin Coolidge’s funeral. The former president was remembered and honored in a short ceremony that lasted a brief 22 minutes and featured all of two hymns, prayers, and reading of Scripture, which included more poetry in Psalms 46 and 121. At the gravesite, a few brief words and a poem by Robert Richardson, and that was all. The funeral featured little pomp and circumstance, and it was not held in Washington, Boston, or New York but rather in his adopted home town of Northampton.

Amity Shlae, in her excellent biography simply entitled Coolidge, describes the scene:

The stock market closed. Amherst halted studies for a day and sent Dwight Morrow, Jr., and Lucious Eastman, sons of Coolidge’s classmates, to the funeral. The flags came down to half-mast. Congress recessed.

Sleeping cars arrived from Washington. Coolidge’s was a simple funeral, astonishingly simple for a former president. There was no eulogy; no address; there were just two hymns, as Al Smith, who came with the rest of the throng, noticed. One hymn was an especially familiar one, heard also at Harding’s funeral train, “Lead, Kindly Light.” … Even in the duration of the event, Coolidge made himself present: the service lasted only twenty-two minutes.

The Coolidge family and a few others motored up to Plymouth to bury him. At the cemetery where they had buried so many others, now he was finally buried. Grace asked the young minister to read a version of a poem by the Australian poet Robert Richardson:

Warm summer sun,
shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind,
Blow softly here;
Green sod above
Lie light, lie light.
Good-night, dear heart,
Good-night, good-night.

Here are some film reels capturing Calvin Coolidge’s funeral:

Here is the order of service for the funeral:

  • Hymn: “Lead, Kindly Light”
  • Hymn: “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”
  • Prayers: Rev. Richard Penner
  • Scripture: Psalms 46, 121; Romans 8; 2 Corinthians 5; John 14

The family and close friends then made the half-hour journey to the grave site in Plymouth. The graveside service was even simpler:

  • Rev. Penner commits Coolidge’s body to burial
  • Poem: Warm Summer Sun, by Robert Richardson
  • Benediction
  • Silence
  • TAPS

Headston for President Calving Coolidge

A restrained and stately service order combined with the right poem, Scripture reading, or hymn will go a long ways towards communicating the values of the person being memorialized. In addition to the Richardson poem quoted above, here are the texts to the two hymns and Psalms sung at Calvin Coolidge’s funeral. We hope that the elegance, rich meaning, and understated simplicity of Coolidge’s funeral and poetry choices can be an inspiration to you.

Lead, Kindly Light

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on;
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on;
I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will; remember not past years.

So long Thy pow’r has blest me, sure it still
Wilt lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.
He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Psalm 121

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

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