Afterlife

Poetry that contemplates the afterlife, or what happens after one passes away, is incredibly common in the history of verse writing. Poems on this subject originate from every culture on Earth and vary depending on the writer’s cultural beliefs, religion, and poetic intentions.

The best-known poems about the afterlife use memorable images and recognizable allusions. They tap into readers’ interest in understanding death and coming to terms with losses they may have suffered in their own lives. Poets as different as William Shakespeare and Sara Teasdale have written poems about the afterlife and what they feel is waiting for them after death in one moment or the next.

Some afterlife poems ask readers to look at death as something peaceful or an escape from the struggles and stresses of the real world. Others mourn the end of life and acknowledge death as nothing more than the end of one’s existence, challenging religious depictions of life after death.

No matter one’s personal beliefs, there is an afterlife poem that aligns with and perfectly challenges their understanding of what happens after one passes away.

Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson

‘Requiem’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a poem about accepting death and finding peace in going “home” after a long life. 

On Easter Day by Oscar Wilde

‘On Easter Day’ by Oscar Wilde asks readers to consider how Christian teachings align with the modern-day Pope. It’s about the importance of not putting man-made desires and institutions ahead of God. 

The Old Fools by Philip Larkin

‘The Old Fools’ by Philip Larkin is a poem about what happens when one grows older and begins to forget about their life.

This World is not Conclusion

‘This World is not Conclusion’ is a deeply thoughtful exploration of faith and doubt from one of America’s finest poets.

Holy Sonnet II by John Donne

‘Holy Sonnet II’ by John Donne is the second in a series of religious sonnets that Donne is well-known for. This poem is directed to God and explores a speaker’s concerns about their fate. 

A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map by Stephen Spender

‘A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map’ by Stephen Spender explores the Spanish Civil War through the lyrical depiction of one man’s death. It is marked by a stopwatch, the olive trees, and the continued conflict around him. 

I did not reach Thee

‘I did not reach Thee’ by Emily Dickinson is a complex poem about a speaker’s journey through life. She expresses both optimism and hesitation in the face of her death and attempts to reach God. 

On the Day of Judgment by Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift’s acerbic poem ‘On the Day of Judgment’ is about a speaker’s vision of the judgment day with Jove or Jupiter giving his final ruling on humankind’s offenses.

There came a Day—at Summer’s full

‘There came a Day—at Summer’s full’ by Emily Dickinson depicts two lovers in a tricky situation that keeps them apart. But, they know they’ll be reunited in the next life. 

Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath

‘Blackberrying’ by Sylvia Plath explores decaying and flourishing life and human mortality. It was published in 1971 in Crossing the Water, after the poet’s death.

Epilogue by Robert Browning

‘Epilogue’ is a perfect bid-adieu poem to leave behind amidst a great body of poetic works if one is as great a poet as Victorian-era maestro Robert Browning.

Among the Rocks by Robert Browning

‘Among the Rocks’ is a beautiful lyric poem written from the perspective of James Lee’s wife, a character of Robert Browning’s collection, Dramatis Personae (1864).

Sheep In Fog by Sylvia Plath

The poem ‘Sheep In Fog’ describes Sylvia Plath’s feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, helplessness, and depression.

The Last Night that She lived

‘The last Night that She lived’ by Emily Dickinson is a poem about a dying woman’s final moments and how a specific observer felt about her death.

Contusion by Sylvia Plath

‘Contusion’ by Sylvia Plath is a memorable, short poem about death and a loss of passion or meaning in one’s life. It is a dramatic monologue written 12 days before the poet’s death. 

A Picture of Otto by Ted Hughes

‘A Picture of Otto’ by Ted Hughes is addressed to Sylvia Plath’s father, Otto. It contains Hughes’ disagreements about how he and Otto were depicted in Plath’s work.

Darling by Jackie Kay

‘Darling’ by Jackie Kay describes a woman’s death on a beautiful summer day and her close friend’s reaction. It was inspired by a personal loss the poet experienced. 

When I Die by Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi

‘When I Die’ is an incredible Rumi poem about eternal life after death. The poet proposes not to grieve his death as it’s just a means to a new beginning, not an end.

Fiddler Jones by Edgar Lee Masters

Masters’ ‘Fiddler Jones’ highlights how following one’s passion, no matter what it is, is always worthwhile and helps lead a life without any regrets. As the title says, this poem is about a wayward fiddler devoted to his passion.

Spirits of the Dead by Edgar Allan Poe

‘Spirits of the Dead’ by Edgar Allan Poe is a beautiful poem that describes life and death. Specifically, the poet dwells on what it means to move from one world to the next. 

Flash Crimson by Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg’s ‘Flash Crimson’ is an emotionally charged, devotional poem where a speaker is eager to ask God for more hardships. It deals with the themes of devotion, morality, legacy, and the afterlife.

After Death by Christina Rossetti

‘After Death’ is a Petrarchan Sonnet by Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. It skillfully explores themes of death and tragic love.

Wrong Train by Ted Berrigan

Ted Berrigan’s poem ‘Wrong Train’ connects a speaker’s experiences while waiting for a train to the afterlife. Berrigan presents this idea with vivid imagery.

The Dead by Billy Collins

‘The Dead’ eliminates the gap between the living and the poor. It draws our attention to the fact that the dead are always watching us and waiting for our arrival.

The Bustle in a House

‘The Bustle in a House’ by Emily Dickinson is a short poem about the effects of death. It describes the “bustle” in a home the morning after an important loss.

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox