From W. H. Auden to Emily Brontë, the poets on this list take different, although equally interesting, approaches to their verse. Their work is beautiful and filled with images that should relate to a wide variety of readers, especially to those who are mourning a lost loved one.
Best Memorial Poems
- 1 Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden
- 2 Yes Thou Art Gone by Anne Brontë
- 3 Grief by Carol Ann Duffy
- 4 I measure every Grief I meet by Emily Dickinson
- 5 Yes, Holy Be Thy Resting Place by Emily Brontë
- 6 The Dash by Linda Ellis
- 7 Sonnet 23-Methought I saw my late espoused saint by John Milton
- 8 O that ’twere possible by Alfred Lord Tennyson
- 9 A Dream of Death by William Butler Yeats
- 10 Dirge Over a Nameless Grave by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- 11 FAQs
‘Funeral Blues,’ also known as ‘Stop all the Clocks,’ is arguably Auden’s most famous poem. It was first published in The Year’s Poetry in 1938. It is a morose, sad elegy that wonderfully describes the feelings associated with grieving. Throughout, readers can explore the different ways that people experience grief and perhaps some comfort in a time of loss. Here are a few lines:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Read more W.H. Auden poems.
Yes Thou Art Gone by Anne Brontë
‘Yes Thou Art Gone’ is one of two poems by a Brontë sister on this list. It. Like many of the poets’ pieces, it evokes feelings of loss and deep emotion. It may have been written as a memorial for William Weightman, who worked as an assistant curate to Patrick Brontë. Here are a few lines:
Yes, thou art gone! and never more
Thy sunny smile shall gladden me;
But I may pass the old church door,
And pace the floor that covers thee,
May stand upon the cold, damp stone,
Discover more Anne Brontë poems.
Throughout this poem, readers can explore the poet’s understanding of grief as a universal feeling that connects all of humanity. For example, she depicts grief as “your gift, unwrapped” and speaks about a single, recently deceased person as a lost light in the darkness. Here are a few lines:
Grief, your gift, unwrapped,
my empty hands made heavy,
holding when they held you
like an ache; unlooked for,
though my eyes stare inward now
at where you were, my star, my star;
Explore more Carol Ann Duffy poems.
This is one of the darker poems on this list. Throughout, the poet takes a depressing tone to the theme of grief and the idea that loss is unavoidable in life. The speaker takes some comfort in the lines of this poem, as readers might, from the fact that she is not the only one who has felt this way. This makes ‘I measure every Grief I meet’ is a well-loved memorial poem. Here are a few lines:
I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size.
Discover more Emily Dickinson poems.
‘Yes, Holy Be Thy Resting Place’ is an inspirational memorial poem. It marks the feelings of loss and sadness that undoubtedly were an unfortunately significant aspect of her life. Emily Brontë lost her mother and two of her older sisters by the time she had turned eight years old. Her feelings come through clearly in the poem. For example, in the second stanza:
And will not guardian Angels send
Kind dreams and thoughts of love,
Though I no more may watchful bend
Thy longed repose above?
Explore more Emily Brontë poems.
The Dash by Linda Ellis
‘The Dash’ is a very popular contemporary poem in which the poet explores themes of death, life, and the purpose of life. Unlike some poems on this list, the mood is uplifting and inspiring. It was written to address the brevity of life and the importance of living a good loved-filled one. Here are a few lines:
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning…to the end
Discover more Linda Ellis poems.
‘Methought I saw my late espoused saint’ is a moving poem written after the death of Milton’s second wife, Katherine Woodcock. She passed away after giving birth to their daughter, who also passed away. Unfortunately for Milton, this was not the first time he lost a wife in this manner. Here are a few lines of this touching memorial poem:
Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me, like Alcestis, from the grave,
Whom Jove’s great son to her glad husband gave,
Rescu’d from death by force, though pale and faint.
Read more John Milton poems.
This piece is a two stanza excerpt from the longer work, ’Maud’. The poem was published in Maud and Other Poems in 1855. It depicts the speaker’s desire to see his deceased lover once more. An hour, he adds towards the end, in their presence would greatly improve him, he concludes at the end of this excerpt. Here are a few lines from this section of ‘Maud:’
O that ’twere possible
After long grief and pain
To find the arms of my true love
Round me once again!…
Discover more Alfred Lord Tennyson poems.
‘A Dream of Death’ by William Butler Yeats is an inspiring memorial poem that invites the reader to question the nature and importance of burial. Influenced by a dream, the poem explores a different dimension of loss that haunts and puzzles. Here are a few lines from the beginning of the poem:
I dreamed that one had died in a strange place
Near no accustomed hand,
And they had nailed the boards above her face,
The peasants of that land,
Wondering to lay her in that solitude,
Read more William Butler Yeats’ poems.
‘Dirge Over a Nameless Grave’ is a powerful memorial poem that tells the story of a loss while using beautiful natural imagery in an inspiring way. The poem depicts the influence of death on a pair of lovers. The poem begins with this quatrain:
By yon still river, where the wave
Is winding slow at evening’s close,
The beech, upon a nameless grave,
Its sadly-moving shadow throws.
Read more Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poems.
A memorial poem is a piece of poetry that is read, out loud or to one’s self, that speaks to loss, grief, and moving forward. These poems are suitable for anyone who has lost someone important in their life and is looking to connect to universal ideas of grief and death.
Some of the best memorial poems in history include ‘Sonnet 23’ by John Milton, ‘A Dirge’ by Christina Rossetti, and ‘I measure every Grief I meet’ by Emily Dickinson.
To write a memorial poem, one has to decide what tone to take, what images to include, and whether or not the poem is going to be very personal or more broadly relatable. It’s best to include some personal emotions in order to make the piece feel real, as well as darker and lighter images.