Funerals, loss, and mourning are unavoidable parts of human life. They’ve been experienced in different ways and from different perspectives throughout time.
On this list, readers will find several creative, moving, and thoughtful approaches to death and how one might say goodbye to someone they loved.
Poems to Read at Funerals
This popular poem asks the reader very simply not to mourn them when they’ve passed on. 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.
In ‘Let Me Go,’ the speaker asks that after her death, there is no great mourning or sorrow. Her soul will be “set free,” and she’ll be entering into a new, more beautiful life. She knows that those she leaves behind will miss her some, but she hopes not too much. This is a journey; she reminds everyone that all must take. This poem, like ‘Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep’ is an uplifting and beautiful piece to read at a funeral. Here are the first four lines:
When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?
Also known as ‘All is Well,’ ‘Death is nothing at all’ comes from the perceptive of a speaker who has entered death and is attempting to help those he’s left behind. He’s only slipped from the room, he says. Nothing else has changed. Everyone is still as important to one another as they were before. This poem reframes death in a way that might provide a good change of pace and moment without sorrow at a funeral. Here are the first five lines:
Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
‘Funeral Blues’ is also known as ‘Stop all the clocks’ and is certainly one of Auden’s best-known poems. In the piece, he speaks about the power of grief and how it influences people in different ways. The world is sometimes transformed but more often than nothing seems to change. The clocks don’t stop, time doesn’t slow down, and the world spins on as it always has. Here are the first four lines of this much-loved poem:
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.
‘Death Be Not Proud’ is a famous John Donne poem that addresses death as a personified force that one should not fear. He challenges death, suggesting that it shouldn’t be so proud of itself and that it will one day be overcome by something even greater. Just like ‘Death Is Nothing At All,’ this piece reframes death as something conquerable and not to be feared. Here are the first four lines:
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee
In ‘Crossing the Bar,’ Tennyson is suspected of having written an elegy for his own life. It 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 the last four lines of the poem:
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
‘Requiescat’ is one of Oscar Wilde’s best-known poems. Wilde wrote it in regard to his sister, Isola, who died when she was only nine years old. He expressed through other writings at the time and later that he felt at least in part responsible for her death. The lines of this poem remember and celebrate her while also mourning the loss the speaker is experiencing. Wilde was no stranger to loss and these beautiful lines fell as colourful and loving as anyone would expect from him. This poem is an ideal way to acknowledge one’s sorrow while also speaking lovingly about a female member of the family who has passed away. Here are four lines from the poem:
All her bright golden hair
Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
Fallen to dust.
An Epitaph by A.E. Housman
‘Epitaph’ is a short poem that, as its title makes clear, is written in honor of someone who has died. It is told, unusually, from the perceptive of the deceased and asks any who passes by their grave not to mourn. Instead, this person says they should know that the speaker sleeps soundly. They are at rest, death has been the balm to all “fevers.” Those who enjoyed this poem will also find solace in many other epitaphs written by poets throughout time. Here are four lines from the poem:
Stay, if you list, O passer by the way;
Yet night approaches; better not to stay.
I never sigh, nor flush, nor knit the brow,
Nor grieve to think how ill God made me, now.