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Funeral and Grief Poems


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We've got threads for love poems and inspirational poems. I'd be really interested to know what poems people have heard read at funerals, that seemed to be good and helpful. (Actually, I'd be interested to hear about the ones that seemed deeply unhelpful too - though I guess that takes a bit of tact to talk about, as what's deeply awful to one person might have been a real life-saver for someone else)

 

What poems have helped you when you've been bereaved or in some other form of grief? What might you want read at your own funeral?

 

The commonest poems I've heard at funerals recently have sounded fairly Victorian, I'd be interested to know what more modern poems there are around too.

 

(I hope this isn't too morbid a thread. I've been going to a lot of funerals recently, doing work shadowing, and am working towards conducting them myself soon, so I guess I'm starting to look at them with a professional eye as well as with a personal eye.)

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Oddly, a lot of the love poems that we hold dear also seem to fit the bill for funeral - mainly, I suppose, because the deceased was loved. Of course, W H Auden's Stop the Clocks, made famous by that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral, is a pretty popular choice these days.

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 for ever: 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.

Or Dylan Thomas' Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night -

 

 

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.

My personal favourite would have to be Emily Dickinson's Because I could not stop for Death -

 

 

 

 

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

 

We slowly drove – He knew no haste

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,

For His Civility –

 

We passed the School, where Children strove

At Recess – in the Ring –

We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –

We passed the Setting Sun –

 

Or rather – He passed us –

The Dews drew quivering and chill –

For only Gossamer, my Gown –

My Tippet – only Tulle –

 

We paused before a House that seemed

A Swelling of the Ground –

The Roof was scarcely visible –

The Cornice – in the Ground –

 

Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the Horses' Heads

Were toward Eternity –

 

 

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Having commented on a particular poem on the poetry chain, I thought I'd pop back here and explain myself....

 

Death is nothing at all,

I have only slipped away

into the next room.

 

I am I,

and you are you;

whatever we were to each other,

that, we still are.

 

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 shared together.

Let my name ever be

the household word that it always was.

Let it be spoken without effect,

without the trace of a shadow on it.

 

Life means all

that it ever meant.

It is 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.

 

 

I guess I struggle to find this one helpful because it seems to down play the significance of death so much. I know when my dad died, I would have fumed at anyone who told me, "Death is nothing at all", when it feeled like my whole world was shaking on it's foundations.....I would have much more identified with the poem Hazel quotes - to 'rage, rage' against death. I can see why this one is a comfort to people, though, maybe when they've reached a more accepting, quiet stage of their grief.

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I would like this one Claire and my coffin is going through for cremation to the strains of Springstein's I'm on Fire :D

 

 

Life Goes On

 

If I should go before the rest of you

Break not a flower

Nor inscribe a stone

Nor when I am gone

Speak in a Sunday voice

But be the usual selves

That I have known

Weep if you must

Parting is hell

But life goes on

So .... sing as well

Joyce Grenfell

1910-1979

 

 

 

If I have another poem it would be Christina Rossetti's Birthday

 

 

And my hymn - To be a Pilgrim (or whatever its called)

Other music Ruby Tuesday by the Rolling Stones.

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I guess I struggle to find this one helpful because it seems to down play the significance of death so much.

It's funny, isn't it? I was asked to read that poem at the funeral of my aunt several years ago, then, when my cousin's husband died after a long illness a couple of years back she remembered it and asked if I'd do it again for his funeral, and it seemed a well-received choice.

 

Whilst it certainly wouldn't chime with my feelings I can see the comforting edge it has.

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Not quite a funeral/grief poem, but I always liked what Erma Bombeck said when told she had cancer -

 

 

 

I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for the day.

 

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

 

I would have talked less and listened more.

 

I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded.

 

I would have eaten the popcorn in the “good” living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.

 

I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.

 

I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.

 

I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.

 

I would have cried and laughed less while watching television, and more while watching life.

 

I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn’t show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.

 

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

 

When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.”

 

There would have been more “I love you’s.” More “I’m sorry’s.”

 

But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute… look at it and really see it… live it… and never give it back.

 

Stop sweating the small stuff. Don’t worry about who doesn’t like you, who has more, or who’s doing what.

 

Instead, let’s cherish the relationships we have with those who DO love us.

 

Let’s think about what God HAS blessed us with.

 

And what we are doing each day to promote ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, as well as spiritually.

 

Life is too short to let it pass you by.

 

We only have one shot at this and then it’s gone.

 

I hope you all have a blessed day.

 

I'd quite like to have my own version of that read out at my funeral.
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Tennyson's "Break break break" is my favourite funeral poem, though I've never heard it at a funeral myself. A friend of mine read it at his brother's funeral, and I even heard of someone having it at the funeral of his dog!

 

Break, break, break,

On thy cold gray stones, O sea!

And I would that my tongue could utter

The thoughts that arise in me.

 

O, well for the fisherman's boy,

That he shouts with his sister at play!

O, well for the sailor lad,

That he sings in his boat on the bay!

 

And the stately ships go on

To their haven under the hill;

But O for the touch of a vanished hand,

And the sound of a voice that is still!

 

Break, break, break,

At the foot of thy crags, O sea!

But the tender grace of a day that is dead

Will never come back to me

 

The whole of "In memoriam" obviously applies to this subject. I personally love the following lines:

 

Be near me when my light is low,

When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick

And tingle; and the heart is sick,

And all the wheels of Being slow.

Be near me when the sensuous frame

Is rack’d with pangs that conquer trust;

And Time, a maniac scattering dust,

And Life, a Fury slinging flame.

 

Be near me when my faith is dry,

And men the flies of latter spring,

That lay their eggs, and sting and sing

And weave their petty cells and die.

 

Be near me when I fade away,

To point the term of human strife,

And on the low dark verge of life

The twilight of eternal day.

 

 

The following (from "Maud") is too passionate for a funeral but really evokes the reality of grief:

 

O that `twere possible

After long grief and pain

To find the arms of my true love

Round me once again!

...

A shadow flits before me,

Not thou, but like to thee;

Ah Christ, that it were possible

For one short hour to see

The souls we loved, that they might tell us

What and where they be.

 

It leads me forth at evening,

It lightly winds and steals

In a cold white robe before me,

When all my spirit reels

At the shouts, the leagues of lights,

And the roaring of the wheels.

 

Half the night I waste in sighs,

Half in dreams I sorrow after

The delight of early skies;

In a wakeful doze I sorrow

For the hand, the lips, the eyes,

For the meeting of the morrow

The delight of happy laughter,

The delight of low replies.

...

Thro` the hubbub of the market

I steal, a wasted frame,

It crosses here, it crosses there,

Thro` all that crowd confused and loud

The shadow still the same;

And on my heavy eyelids

My anguish hangs like shame.

...

But the broad light glares and beats,

And the shadow flits and fleets

And will not let me be;

And I loathe the squares and streets,

And the faces that one meets,

Hearts with no love for me:

Always I long to creep

Into some still cavern deep,

There to weep, and weep, and weep

My whole soul out to thee.

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I love this one, especially for the third and fourth lines.

THEY told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,

They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.

I wept as I remember'd how often you and I

Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

 

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,

A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,

Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;

For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

 

Heraclitus, by William (Johnson) Cory

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I guess I struggle to find this one helpful because it seems to down play the significance of death so much.
My Gran asked for this poem to be read at her funeral.

Death is nothing at all,

I have only slipped away

into the next room. etc...

I took it that she meant us not to think of her as wholly gone because our memories of her will last forever. Certainly touched a few chords.
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  • 4 months later...

When I die I would like my all time favourite poem, Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, recited.

 

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

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  • 2 months later...

What really helped me when my mother died was :

 

Do not stand at my grave and weep

 

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.

 

Apparently, by Mary Elizabeth Frye

 

I came across Death Is Nothing At All much later and thought that it was very beautiful and, like Jen, I thought that it meant that the deceased had not wholly gone because the memories of him/her will last forever. Touched a few chords with me too.

 

Luna

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What really helped me when my mother died was...

Luna, I was just thinking about that poem. My grandmother died a month ago and that was one of the choices for the readings at her funeral. I read it over and over, and though it made me teary eyed (still does) I find it so uplifting and comforting. Thanks for sharing. :)

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Luna, I was just thinking about that poem. My grandmother died a month ago and that was one of the choices for the readings at her funeral. I read it over and over, and though it made me teary eyed (still does) I find it so uplifting and comforting. Thanks for sharing. :)

 

 

You are more than welcome FirelightSpirit (love your login name!)

 

Luna

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  • 5 months later...

It's probably a bit morbid reading funeral poetry when you don't have reason to, but I love this poem. If I was worthy of this poem when I died, (and I probably wouldn't be), I would know I'd lived a good life:

 

Someone is missing - a crafter of quiet,

A beacon of love in the midst of a riot;

 

Some whose laughter scattered the thunder,

Some who saw through eyes of wonder;

 

Someone who reckoned hate a blindness,

Someone who smothered fault with kindness;

 

Someone who wore her learning lightly,

Someone whose gentleness chided us slightly;

 

Someone who fashioned her heart a palace,

Somone whose innocence walled out malice;

 

Someone who harnessed hurt to healing

Someone who knew just how you were feeling;

 

Someone whose painterly eye saw through you,

Someone who loved you before she knew you;

 

Someone who never called in her marker,

Someone is missing. And life is darker.

 

Someone is Missing by Felix Dennis

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Should he go first, I've often thought I'd quite like this one read at Mr meg's funeral

 

Crossing The Bar - by Alfred, Lord Tennyson,

 

Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,

 

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

 

Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness or farewell,

When I embark;

 

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.

 

Today, on Poetry Please, (Radio4) my attention was caught by the following poem by Katherine Raine. Thinking of 'sleep' as a metaphor, this seems like a lovely funerary prayer, and again with the sea references in the middle two verses, it would be appropriate for Mr meg ;)

 

Spell of Sleep

 

Let him be safe in sleep

As leaves folded together

As young birds under wings

As the unopened flower

 

Let him be hidden in sleep

As islands under rain,

As mountains within their clouds,

As hills in the mantle of dusk.

 

Let him be free in sleep

As the flowing tides of the sea,

As the travelling wind on the moor,

As the journeying stars in space.

 

Let him be upheld in sleep

As a cloud at rest on the air,

As sea-wrack under the waves

When the flowing tide covers all

And the shells' delicate lives

Open on the sea-floor

 

Let him be healed in sleep

In the quiet waters of night

In the mirroring pool of dreams

Where memory returns in peace,

Where the troubled spirit grows wise

And the heart is comforted.

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  • 1 year later...

I have just returned from a celebration following the funeral of a young man of 37. As part of the service the following poem by Ellen Bass was read:

 

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you've held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

thickening the air, heavy as water

more fit for gills than lungs;

when grief weights you like your own flesh

only more of it, an obesity of grief,

you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

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