These poets, from Oscar Wilde to Carol Ann Duffy, understand what it feels like to lose someone close to them, and they write about it thoughtfully and clearly. These poems are comforting, relatable, and moving.
Poems About Losing a Loved One
- 1 Farewell by Anne Brontë
- 2 The Gardener XLI: Peace, My Heart by Rabindranath Tagore
- 3 Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson
- 4 In Memoriam A.H.H. by Alfred Lord Tennyson
- 5 Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep by Mary Frye
- 6 Death of a Teacher by Carol Ann Duffy
- 7 And Death Shall Have No Dominion by Dylan Thomas
- 8 When Death Comes by Mary Oliver
- 9 On the Death of Anne Brontë by Charlotte Brontë
- 10 An Irish Airman Forsees His Death by William Butler Yeats
- 11 On the Death of a Young Lady by Lord Byron
- 12 Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes by Thomas Gray
- 13 To Flush, My Dog by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- 14 To My Mother by Edgar Allan Poe
- 15 The Grave of Keats by Oscar Wilde
- 16 The Day Lady Died by Frank O’Hara
‘Farewell’ is a personal poem, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t suitable for a wide variety of readers to read and connect to. Throughout the quatrains of the poem, the speaker reminisces on the time they spent with “you.” She speaks wistfully about the past and wishes to remain joyful in her heart.
Farewell to thee! but not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart they still shall dwell;
And they shall cheer and comfort me.
‘The Gardener XLI: Peace, My Heart’ is one of the shortest poems on this list. It is addressed to the speaker’s heart, imploring it to let this time be one of “completeness” rather than grief.
Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.
‘Crossing the Bar’ was composed as one of his last poems, sometime in 1889, just three years before his death, and is suggestive, through the first-person pronouns, that Tennyson was considering his own mortality. Interestingly, Tennyson requested that this poem appears as the final piece in any collections of his poetry published later. Here are a few lines:
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea
In Memoriam A.H.H. by Alfred Lord Tennyson
‘In Memoriam, A.H.H.’ is often considered Alfred Lord Tennyson’s masterpiece. It was written after the death of his close friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly at the age of 22. The long poem is moving, thoughtful, and at times, quite complicated. Here are a few lines:
I held it truth, with him who sings
To one clear harp in divers tones,
That men may rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves to higher things.
This popular poem asks the reader very simply not to mourn them when they’ve passed on. It is written from the perspective of someone who died. They’ve transformed into something more beautiful. They are the “winds that blow” and the “diamonds glints on snow.” They’re not truly lost, as one can see them in everything all around them. The beautiful moments are filled with evidence of those who have passed away, making this a perfect poem to read at any funeral. Here are the first four lines of the poem:
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
‘Death of a Teacher’ was written from Duffy’s perspective after she learned about the death of one of her most influential instructors. The poem mourns this person’s loss but also celebrates their life, an important part of the poems on this list.
When I heard the hour – home time, last bell,
late afternoon – I closed my eyes. English, of course,
three decades back, and me thirteen. You sat on your desk,
swinging your legs, reading a poem by Yeats
‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’ is one of Thomas’s best-known poems and only one of several he wrote while thinking about death. It pushes back against death’s all-consuming power.
And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
This piece speaks about what happens after a loved one passes away. The speaker goes through the ways that death will determine when it’s her time to cross over and what she’ll encounter when she gets to “the other side.”
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from
‘On the Death of Anne Brontë’ was written after the poet’s sister passed away. It depicts her grief over the loss of her sister as well as her relief that Anne’s suffering has ended. This is a conflict that’s quite familiar to many poets on this list and one that many readers will likely relate to.
There’s little joy in life for me,
And little terror in the grave;
I’ve lived the parting hour to see
Of one I would have died to save.
‘An Irish Airman Forsees His Death’ was written after the passing of his friend, Robert Gregory, an Irish airman who was accidentally shot down. His statements in this piece are simple but profoundly thoughtful at the same time.
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
‘On the Death of a Young Lady’ was written in honor of Byron’s cousin, Margaret Parker, who died when she was very young. He depicts visiting her tomb in the first lines of the poem and considers what it’s like to die.
Within this narrow cell reclines her clay,
That clay, where once such animation beam’d;
The King of Terrors seized her as his prey,
Not worth nor beauty have her life redeem’d.
Not all loved ones are human, and in ‘Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes’ Gray speaks about the death of a friend’s cat who, as the tale suggests, drowned in a bathtub filled with goldfish. Here are the first lines.
’Twas on a lofty vase’s side,
Where China’s gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers that blow;
This poem was written to Browning’s dog, Flush, a cocker spaniel. The poem explores themes of loss, companionship, and love. Flush was a well-loved friend to Browning and the 21 stanzas of this poem prove that.
Loving friend, the gift of one,
Who, her own true faith, hath run,
Through thy lower nature;
Poe’s famously tragic life is depicted in ‘To My Mother’ in which he directs his words towards his mother, and the mother of his wife. As the poem progresses, he speaks more broadly about what a mother is.
Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
None so devotional as that of “Mother,”
‘The Grave of Keats’ was written after the untimely death of John Keats. It depicts the emotional impact his short life had on England and on the poet.
Rid of the world’s injustice, and his pain,
He rests at last beneath God’s veil of blue:
Taken from life when life and love were new
The youngest of the martyrs here is lain,
‘The Day Lady Died’ is different from the other poems on this list in that the poet is mourning the loss of a celebrity, jazz singer Billie Holiday who passed away due to complications from liver disease in July of 1959. Here are the last lines of the poem:
and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing