An introduction to funeral poems

There are many things to consider when planning a funeral: floral arrangements, casket choice, music, tone – the list goes on. When brought together, all of these elements should help to create a special and fitting send-off for your loved one.

Poems are another thing many people decide to include in the service, as a way to pay tribute whilst saying goodbye. Choosing one can be difficult, but the following information should help you make your decision.

Funeral poetry guide

Why read a poem at a funeral?

People have many different reasons for reading poems at their loved ones’ funeral services. It may be that the departed had a favourite piece, or a particular poet they loved. Or perhaps there’s a poem that sums up everything you want to say perfectly. There are no right or wrong reasons, but it’s important that the chosen verses have meaning.

Which poem?

There’s also no right or wrong when it comes to the type of poem. Lots of people opt for classic pieces that everyone will be familiar with, but you could choose something modern if it’s more fitting. There’s also no pressure for a poem to be religious, but if faith played a big part in your loved one’s life, that route may be suitable.

Below are a few examples you might want to consider:

Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep – (Mary Elizabeth Frye)

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.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there.
I did not die.

We Remember Him (We Remember Her) – (Adapted from the Yizkor Service)

When we are weary and in need of strength,
When we are lost and sick at heart,
We remember him.
When we have a joy we crave to share
When we have decisions that are difficult to make
When we have achievements that are based on his
We remember him.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring,
We remember him.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
We remember him.
At the rising of the sun and at its setting,
We remember him.
As long as we live, he too will live
For he is now a part of us,
As we remember him.

Intimations of Immortality – (William Wordsworth)

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now forever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.

Traditional Gaelic blessing – (Unknown)

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

For a Father – (Elise Partridge)
Remember after work you grabbed our skateboard,
crouched like a surfer, wingtips over the edge;
wheels clacketing down the pocked macadam,
you veered almost straight into the neighbor’s hedge?
We ran after you laughing, shouting, Wait!

Or that August night you swept us to the fair?
The tallest person boarding the Ferris wheel,
you rocked our car right when we hit the apex
above the winking midway, to make us squeal.
Next we raced you to the games, shouting, Wait!

At your funeral, relatives and neighbors,
shaking our hands, said, “So young to have died!”
But we’ve dreamt you’re just skating streets away,
striding the fairgrounds toward a wilder ride.
And we’re still straggling behind, shouting, Wait—!

Funeral poems

The choice is yours

Above are just five examples of popular funeral poems – there really are thousands to choose from, so too many to list here. If you had no guidance from your loved one before they departed, and there are no obvious pieces to pick, take your time to look around in different places.

The internet is a great tool these days, but don’t discount conventional libraries and book stores; the staff may be able to make recommendations. It’s also worth asking relatives and friends in case they know of any that would be particularly appropriate.

Writing your own poem

If you’re struggling to find a suitable piece, why not write your own? This is the best way to ensure your reading says exactly what you want it to, and that everything is included. Just be sure to take your time and get some help from other friends or family if necessary. If you’re struggling to get started, try using an existing poem as inspiration.

For those who don’t like the idea of reading a poem aloud, or would prefer to make the chosen verses a little more permanent, it’s also possible to have excerpts (or the whole piece) engraved on a headstone, so this might be something else to consider.