Bereavement Readings and Poems

Below is a collection of some beautiful readings and poems for funerals, and I have tried to include an audio or video reading of each poem. If you are choosing a reading for a funeral service I am conducting, please just make a note of the number of the poem.

1. W.H.Auden - Funeral Blues

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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.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

 

2. Christina Rosetti - Remember

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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 understand
It 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.

 

3. Mary Elizabeth Frye (possibly) - Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep

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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 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.


 

4. Khalil Gibran - On Death

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Then Almitra spoke, saying, "We would ask now of Death."
And he said:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the sheered not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink form the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

 

5. Henry Scott Holland -  All is Well

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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,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It it the same as it ever was, there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.
All is well.

 

6. E.E. Cummings - I Carry Your Heart

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i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and 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 bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher 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)

 

7. From the Yizkor Service (adapted) - We Remember Her

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When we are weary and in need of strength,
When we are lost and sick at heart,
We remember her.
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 hers
We remember her.
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 her.
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 her.
At the rising of the sun and at its setting,
We remember her.
As long as we live, she too will live
For she is now a part of us,
As we remember her.

 

8. From the Yizkor Service (adapted) - We Remember Him

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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.

 

9. Walter De La Mare - The Listeners

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I don't know that this is a traditional bereavement poem, but it's my favourite poem of all time.

It is said that a few a few days before Thomas Hardy died, he asked his wife to read this poem aloud to him and afterwards he said, "That is possibly the finest poem of the century."

I would have to agree.

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

10. John Donne - Death Be Not Proud (suggested by Claire Balfour)

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DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty 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, 5
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, 10
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.

11. Robert H. Smith - The Clock of Life

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“The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.

To lose one's wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one's health is more,
To lose one's soul is such a loss
That no man can restore.

The present only is our own,
So live, love, toil with a will,
Place no faith in "Tomorrow,"
For the Clock may then be still.”

12. Rabindranath Tagore - Farewell My Friends

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Farewell my friends
It was beautiful
As long as it lasted
The journey of my life.
I have no regrets
Whatsoever said
The pain I’ll leave behind.
Those dear hearts
Who love and care...
And the strings pulling
At the heart and soul...
The strong arms
That held me up
When my own strength
Let me down.
At the turning of my life
I came across
Good friends,
Friends who stood by me
Even when time raced me by.
Farewell, farewell My friends
I smile and
Bid you goodbye.
No, shed no tears
For I need them not
All I need is your smile.
If you feel sad
Do think of me
For that’s what I’ll like
When you live in the hearts
Of those you love
Remember then
You never die.

13. Rabindranath Tagore - I Have Got My Leave

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Bid me farewell, my brothers!
I bow to you all and take my departure.
Here I give back the keys of my door-
and I give up all claims to my house,
I only ask for last kind words from you.
We were neighbours for long,
but I received more than I could give.
Now the day has dawned
and the lamp that lit my dark corner is out.
A summons has come and I am ready for my journey.

14. Rabindranath Tagore - I Know the Day Will Come

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I KNOW THAT the day will come
when my sight of this earth shall be lost,
and life will take its leave in silence,
drawing the last curtain over my eyes.
Yet stars will watch at night,
and morning rise as before,
and hours heave like sea waves
casting up pleasures and pains.
When I think of this end of my moments,
the barrier of the moments breaks
and I see by the light of death thy world
with its careless treasures.
Rare is its lowliest seat,
rare is its meanest of lives.
Things that I longed for in vain
and things that I got - let them pass.
Let me but truly possess the things that I ever spurned and overlooked.

15. Langston Hughes - Dear Lovely Death

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Dear lovely Death
That taketh all things under wing
Never to kill
Only to change
Into some other thing
This suffering flesh,
To make it either more or less,
But not again the same
Dear lovely Death,
Change is thy other name

16. Margaret Meade - Remember Me

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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.

17. Dylan Thomas - Do not go gently into that good night

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Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

18. Anonymous - End of the Road

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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!

Miss me a little - but not for long
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that we once shared,
Miss me, but let me go.

For this journey that we all must take
And each must go alone;
It's all a part of the Master's plan
A step on the road to home.

When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know,
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds.
Miss me, but let me go.

19. Amelia Josephine Burr - A Song of Living

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Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.
I have sent up my gladness on wings, to be lost in the blue of the sky.
I have run and leaped with the rain, I have taken the wind to my breast.
My cheek like a drowsy child to the face of the earth I have pressed.
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

I have kissed young Love on the lips, I have heard his song to the end.
I have struck my hand like a seal in the loyal hand of a friend.
I have known the peace of heaven, the comfort of work done well.
I have longed for death in the darkness and risen alive out of hell.
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

I give a share of my soul to the world where my course is run.
I know that another shall finish the task I must leave undone.
I know that no flower, nor flint was in vain on the path I trod.
As one looks on a face through a window, through life I have looked on God.
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

20. Anne Bronte - Farewell

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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.

Life seems more sweet that Thou didst live
And men more true that Thou wert one;
Nothing is lost that Thou didst give,
Nothing destroyed that Thou hast done.

21. Ruth Pitter - Cure Me with Quietness

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Cure me with quietness,
Bless me with peace;
Comfort my heaviness,
Stay me with ease.
Stillness in solitude
Send down like dew;
Mine armour of fortitude
Piece and make new:
That when I rise again
I may shine bright
As the sky after rain,
Day after night.

22. Norman MacCaig (Scottish Poet) - Poem for a Goodbye

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When you go through
My absence, which is all of you,
And clouds, or suns, no more can be my sky,
My one dissembling will be all —
The inclusive lie
Of being this voice, this look, these few feet tall.

The elements which
Made me from our encounter rich
Cannot be uncreated; there is no
Chaos whose informality
Can cancel so
The ritual of your presence, even gone away.

You, then, and I
WIll masquerade a lie,
Diminishing ourselves to be what can
Seem one without the other, while
A greater man,
In hiding, lies behind this look, this smile.

It's he who will
Across sad oceans meet you still,
Startling your carelessness with what once was.
His voice from this past hour will speak,
Cancelling Time's laws:
In the world's presence his hand will touch your cheek.

Foreign can be
Only that sound to you and me.
There is no thought that in its dying goes
Through such a region we do not
In it compose
Each other's selves, each in the other's thought.

You leave behind
More than I was, and with a kind
Of sad prevarication take with you
More than I'll be till that day when
Nothing's to do
But say "At last", and we are home again.

23. Norman MacCaig (Scottish poet) - If

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If your hand came, dead in the dead of night,
And touched my forehead, waking me to see
You standing dead there in the dead of night,
I who fear ghosts would have no fear at all.
I'd greet you with the tenderest hello
And you would smile, though sad. And then you'd go.

There would be nothing deathly in your death
For your love always was the laughing sort
That quickened life and would not die with death.
And when you'd gone, I would not want to weep --
That loving gaiety would still be there
Filling with its own peace the quickened air.

24. Norman MacCaig (Scottish poet) - After

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Let's choose a pretty word, say, evening,
And climb through it into the past,
Or stand on a towering If, surveying
The rosy kingdoms we have lost.

From every corner creep a thousand
Boredoms saying, Greet us. We're life.
Let's round the sunset up and milk it
Into a jug and drink it off.

Or in the hawthorn let us tangle
Our dreary look like gossamer
To shudder with that sparrow's chirping
And when the dew falls be on fire.

Or drag the distance home and chain it
There in the corner of the room
To charm us with its savage howling
And beg for fragments of our dream.

There's a clue somewhere. Can you find it?
Can you say over and over again
"Love," till its incantation makes us
Forget how much we are alone?

These are just some of my favourite readings for funerals, but if you have any favourites of your own, please add them in the comments below.