As much as we would rather not think about it, we all have to die someday. If you find yourself in the position of planning a loved one's departure, I hope that this list of funeral readings from poems makes your endeavor easier.
Unlike weddings, funerals are seldom planned far in advance. Many mourners are left to navigate the ordeal alone, having never discussed their loved ones' wishes. Impacted by grief, those who have had these conversations may still feel under-prepared when the time comes.
It's often a good idea to plan your own funeral, even if you do not expect to die in the near future. If you don't feel qualified to plan out every detail of the ceremony, you can make lists of music, readings, flowers, religious scriptures, and other details you think are nice. This simple action will take a load off your next of kin's shoulders whenever your number turns up.
To those of you who have read a lot of poetry about death, or have attended several funerals, many of the readings on this list will be familiar to you. If this territory is wholly unfamiliar, don't worry. Just take your time, read through the selections here with your loved ones, and make whatever decision feels right to you.
1. "At That Hour" by James Joyce
At that hour when all things have repose,O lonely watcher of the skies,Do you hear the night wind and the sighsOf harps playing unto Love to uncloseThe pale gates of sunrise?
When all things repose, do you aloneAwake to hear the sweet harps playTo Love before him on his way,And the night wind answering in antiphonTill night is overgone?
Play on, invisible harps, unto Love,Whose way in heaven is aglowAt that hour when soft lights come and go,Soft sweet music in the air aboveAnd in the earth below.
2. "Do not stand at my grave and weep" by 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 rain.When you awaken in the morning’s hush,I am the swift uplifting rushOf 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.
3. "Our revels are now ended" from The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Our revels are now ended. These our actors,As I foretold you, were all spirits andAre melted into air, into thin air:And like the baseless fabric of this vision,The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,The solemn temples, the great globe itself,Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolveAnd, like this insubstantial pageant faded,Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuffAs dreams are made on, and our little lifeIs rounded in a sleep.
4. "Farewell" by Anne Brontë
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.
O, beautiful, and full of grace! If thou hadst never met mine eye,I had not dreamed a living face Could fancied charms so far outvie.
If I may ne'er behold again That form and face so dear to me,Nor hear thy voice, still would I fain Preserve, for aye, their memory.
That voice, the magic of whose tone Can wake an echo in my breast,Creating feelings that, alone, Can make my tranced spirit blest.
That laughing eye, whose sunny beam My memory would not cherish less; —And oh, that smile! whose joyous gleam Nor mortal language can express.
Adieu, but let me cherish, still, The hope with which I cannot part.Contempt may wound, and coldness chill, But still it lingers in my heart.
And who can tell but Heaven, at last, May answer all my thousand prayers,And bid the future pay the past With joy for anguish, smiles for tears?
5. "Requiem" by Robert Louis Stevenson
Under the wide and starry sky,Dig the grave and let me lie.Glad did I live and gladly die,And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:Here he lies where he longed to be;Home is the sailor, home from sea,And the hunter home from the hill.
6. "Remember" by Christina Rosetti
Remember me when I am gone away, Gone far away into the silent land; When you can no more hold me by the hand,Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.Remember me when no more day by day You tell me of our future that you plann'd: Only remember me; you understandIt will be late to counsel then or pray.Yet if you should forget me for a while And afterwards remember, do not grieve: For if the darkness and corruption leave A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,Better by far you should forget and smile Than that you should remember and be sad.
7. "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost
Nature's first green is gold,Her hardest hue to hold.Her early leaf's a flower;But only so an hour.Then leaf subsides to leaf.So Eden sank to grief,So dawn goes down to day.Nothing gold can stay.
8. "But Not Forgotten" by Dorothy Parker
I think, no matter where you stray,That I shall go with you a way.Though you may wander sweeter lands,You will not soon forget my hands,Nor yet the way I held my head,Nor all the tremulous things I said.You still will see me, small and whiteAnd smiling, in the secret night,And feel my arms about you whenThe day comes fluttering back again.I think, no matter where you be,You'll hold me in your memoryAnd keep my image, there without me,By telling later loves about me.
9. "Death be not proud" by John Donne
Death be not proud, though some have called theeMighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
10. "Remember Me" by Margaret Mead
Remember Me:To the living, I am gone.To the sorrowful, I will never return.To the angry, I was cheated,But to the happy, I am at peace,And to the faithful, I have never left.I cannot be seen, but I can be heard.So as you stand upon a shore, gazing at a beautiful sea — remember me.As you look in awe at a mighty forest and its grand majesty — remember me.As you look upon a flower and admire its simplicity — remember me.Remember me in your heart, your thoughts, your memories of the times we loved,the times we cried, the times we fought, the times we laughed.For if you always think of me, I will never be gone.
11. "[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]" by e.e. cummings
i carry your heart with me(i carry it inmy heart)i am never without it(anywherei go you go,my dear;and whatever is doneby only me is your doing,my darling)i fearno fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i wantno world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)nd it’s you are whatever a moon has always meantand whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows(here is the root of the root and the bud of the budand the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which growshigher than soul can hope or mind can hide)and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
12. "To My Dear and Loving Husband" by Anne Bradstreet
If ever two were one, then surely we.If ever man were loved by wife, than thee;If ever wife was happy in a man,Compare with me, ye women, if you can.I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,Or all the riches that the East doth hold.My love is such that rivers cannot quench,Nor aught by love from thee give recompense.Thy love is such I can no way reply;The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,That when we live no more we may live ever.
13. "When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be" by John Keats
When I have fears that I may cease to beBefore my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,Before high-pilèd books, in charactery, Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;When I behold, upon the night’s starred face, Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,And think that I may never live to trace Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;And when I feel, fair creature of an hour, That I shall never look upon thee more,Never have relish in the faery power Of unreflecting love — then on the shoreOf the wide world I stand alone, and thinkTill love and fame to nothingness do sink.
14. "The New Life's Salutation" by Anna Barbauld
Life, we’ve been long togetherThrough pleasant and through cloudy weather;‘Tis hard to part when friends are dear,Perhaps ’twill cost a sigh, a tear;Then steal away, give little warning,Choose thine own time:Say not “Good night,” but in some brighter climeBid me “Good morning.”
15. "Sonnet 71" by William Shakespeare
No longer mourn for me when I am deadThan you shall hear the surly sullen bellGive warning to the world that I am fledFrom this vile world with vilest worms to dwell; Nay, if you read this line, remember notThe hand that writ it; for I love you so, That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot, If thinking on me then should make you woe.O, if (I say) you look upon this verse, When I (perhaps) compounded am with clay,Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,But let your love even with my life decay,Lest the wise world should look into your moan, And mock you with me after I am gone.
16. "Making a Fist" by Naomi Shibab Nye
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,I felt the life sliding out of me,a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.I was seven, I lay in the carwatching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.
“How do you know if you are going to die?”I begged my mother.We had been traveling for days.With strange confidence she answered,“When you can no longer make a fist.”
Years later I smile to think of that journey,the borders we must cross separately,stamped with our unanswerable woes.I who did not die, who am still living,still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,clenching and opening one small hand.
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