Finding the right words to say goodbye can be difficult. But they are worth the effort. Funeral readings can be uplifting, comforting, simply sad or even funny. Chosen well, they let you speak from the heart about the person who has died and how you feel about their loss.

But where to begin? Here, we’ve gathered together 33 beautiful non-religious funeral readings from literature. From poetry to prose, we hope these excerpts help you through this hard time.

 

Comforting and uplifting funeral readings

If you are not sure what to read at a funeral service, these gentle, comforting verses and excerpts are a good place to start. 

 

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 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.

 

When I am Dead, My Dearest by Christina Rossetti

With death and mourning a key artistic theme in her time, Christina Rossetti wrote many poems that make beautiful funeral readings. Some are non-religious, others more spiritual. This piece grants the reader both comfort and reassurance that their loved one would not want them to drown in grief.

 

When I am dead, my dearest,

Sing no sad songs for me;

Plant thou no roses at my head,

Nor shady cypress tree:

Be the green grass above me

With showers and dewdrops wet;

And if thou wilt, remember,

And if thou wilt, forget.

 

I shall not see the shadows,

I shall not feel the rain;

I shall not hear the nightingale

Sing on, as if in pain:

And dreaming through the twilight

That doth not rise nor set,

Haply I may remember,

And haply may forget.

 

Idyll by Siegfried Sassoon

In the grey summer garden I shall find you

With day-break and the morning hills behind you.

There will be rain-wet roses; stir of wings;

And down the wood a thrush that wakes and sings.

Not from the past you’ll come, but from that deep

Where beauty murmurs to the soul asleep:

And I shall know the sense of life re-born

From dreams into the mystery of morn

Where gloom and brightness meet. And standing there

Till that calm song is done, at last we’ll share

The league-spread, quiring symphonies that are

Joy in the world, and peace, and dawn’s one star.

 

Death Is Nothing At All by Henry Scott Holland

Death is nothing at all.

It does not count.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

Nothing has happened.

 

Everything remains exactly as it was.

I am I, and you are you,

and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.

Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

 

Call me by the old familiar name.

Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone.

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

 

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that 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 an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

 

Life means all that it ever meant.

It is the same as it ever was.

There is absolute and unbroken continuity.

What is this death but a negligible accident?

 

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you, for an interval,

somewhere very near,

just round the corner.

 

All is well.

Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.

One brief moment and all will be as it was before.

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

 

How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

 

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

 

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

 

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

 

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

For those who don’t believe in an “after”, Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese is a powerful poem on the solace life and nature alone can offer. This makes it a wonderful non-religious funeral reading for an atheist or anyone who loves the great outdoors.

 

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.

 

Afterglow by Helen Lowrie Marshall

I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one.

I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done.

I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways,

Of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days.

I’d like the tears of those who grieve, to dry before the sun;

Of happy memories that I leave when life is done.

I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one.

I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done.

I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways,

Of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days.

I’d like the tears of those who grieve, to dry before the sun;

Of happy memories that I leave when life is done.

 

“You have been my friend…” from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

In Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur the pig is rescued from certain death by his friend, Charlotte the spider, who astounds the human characters by spelling out words in webs spun over Wilbur’s pen. At the end of the book, Wilbur discovers that Charlotte is about to die herself, after dedicating her final moments to securing his safety.

 

“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

 

When You Are Old by W.B. Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

 

“Everyone must leave something…” from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury’s futuristic novel Fahrenheit 451 is perhaps one of the more unusual funeral readings around. But this excerpt has important things to say about the things we leave behind when we die and what they mean to the people who love us. An excellent funeral reading for a gardener, craftsperson, artist or any other maker of things.

 

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. 

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so as long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.

 

Remember by Christina Rossetti

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.

 

“Real isn’t how you are made…” from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco

The Velveteen Rabbit is a classic children’s book with real depth, dealing as it does with love, loss and time. In this excerpt, an older toy – the Skin Horse – explains to the Velveteen Rabbit that toys like them become real when children love them.

As a funeral reading, this passage is a lovely way to say that you’ve lost someone you loved dearly. That their life showed on their face, but that it was a life filled with love. And that they will always be real to you.

 

‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’

 ‘I suppose you are real?’ said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

‘The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,’ he said. ‘That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.’

 

When I die I want your hands on my eyes by Pablo Neruda

When I die I want your hands on my eyes:

I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands

to pass their freshness over me one more time

to feel the smoothness that changed my destiny.

 

I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,

I want for your ears to go on hearing the wind,

for you to smell the sea that we loved together

and for you to go on walking the sand where we walked.

 

I want for what I love to go on living

and as for you I loved you and sang you above everything,

for that, go on flowering, flowery one,

 

so that you reach all that my love orders for you,

so that my shadow passes through your hair,

so that they know by this the reason for my song.

 

“You alone will have stars…” from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This excerpt from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is full of consolation. In it, the Little Prince character reassures the narrator that, while it might seem as though he has died, he’ll actually always be around. 

 

“People have stars, but they aren’t the same. For travellers, the stars are guides. For other people, they’re nothing but tiny lights. And for still others, for scholars, they’re problems. For my business man, they were gold. But all those stars are silent stars. You, though, you’ll have stars like nobody else.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you look up at the sky at night, since I’ll be living on one of them, since I’ll be laughing on one of them, for you it’ll be as if all the stars are laughing. You’ll have stars that can laugh!”

And he laughed again.

“And when you’re consoled (everyone is eventually consoled), you’ll be glad you’ve known me. You’ll always be my friend. You’ll feel like laughing with me. And you’ll open your windows sometimes just for the fun of it … And your friends will be amazed to see you laughing while you’re looking up at the sky. Then you’ll tell them, ‘Yes, it’s the stars; they always make me laugh!’ And they’ll think you’re crazy. It’ll be a nasty trick I played on you …”

 

“I depart as air..” from Song of Myself by Walt Whitman

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,

I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

 

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

 

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,

But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,

 

Missing me one place? Search another.

I stop somewhere waiting for you.

Did you know? You can make a free online obituary for a loved one here on the Beyond site. It’s a wonderful way to share memories, help organise the funeral, and pay tribute to someone special. Find out more here.

 

Sad and contemplative non-religious funeral readings

When someone close to you dies, the sadness can be overwhelming. These quietly sorrowful non-religious funeral readings can help you express how you feel.

 

Music, When Soft Voices Die by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Music, when soft voices die,

Vibrates in the memory –

Odours, when sweet violets sicken,

Live within the sense they quicken.

 

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,

Are heap’d for the beloved’s bed;

And so thy thoughts ,when thou art gone,

Love itself shall slumber on.

 

So, we’ll go no more a roving by George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron) 

So we’ll go no more a roving

    So late into the night,

Though the heart be still as loving,

    And the moon be still as bright.

 

For the sword outwears its sheath,

    And the soul wears out the breast,

And the heart must pause to breathe,

    And Love itself have rest.

 

Though the night was made for loving,

    And the day returns too soon,

Yet we’ll go no more a roving

    By the light of the moon.

 

Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay

When someone dies, you might not only feel sad, but angry, too. It’s a normal reaction to loss, especially if it is sudden or unexpected. This funeral poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay expresses fierce strength as well as sorrow.

 

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.

So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:

Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned

With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

 

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.

Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.

A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,

A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

 

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—

They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled

Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know. But I do not approve.

More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

 

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave

Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;

Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.

I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

 

Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden

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.

 

“In me thou see’st the twilight…” from Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day,

As after sunset fadeth in the west;

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the death-bed whereon it must expire,

Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

 

Readings for funerals: Mother

These two funeral readings for mums are lovely tributes to the powerful bond between a mother and her child. You can find more funeral poems for a mother here.

 

A Dandelion for My Mother by Jean Nordhaus

How I loved those spiky suns,  

rooted stubborn as childhood  

in the grass, tough as the farmer’s  

big-headed children—the mats  

of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe.  

How sturdy they were and how  

slowly they turned themselves  

into galaxies, domes of ghost stars  

barely visible by day, pale  

cerebrums clinging to life  

on tough green stems.   Like you.  

Like you, in the end.   If you were here,  

I’d pluck this trembling globe to show  

how beautiful a thing can be  

a breath will tear away.

 

if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have by e e cummings

if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have

one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor

a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but

it will be a heaven of blackred roses

 

my father will be(deep like a rose

tall like a rose)

 

standing near my

 

(swaying over her

silent)

with eyes which are really petals and see

 

nothing with the face of a poet really which

is a flower and not a face with

hands

which whisper

This is my beloved my

 

(suddenly in sunlight

 

he will bow,

 

& the whole garden will bow)

 

Readings for funerals: Dad

Funeral readings for dads in particular aren’t always easy to find. We have plenty of funeral poems for fathers here, but below are two classics…

 

Only a Dad by Edgar Albert Guest

Only a dad, with a tired face, 

Coming home from the daily race, 

Bringing little of gold or fame, 

To show how well he has played the game, 

But glad in his heart that his own rejoice 

To see him come, and to hear his voice. 

 

Only a dad, with a brood of four, 

One of ten million men or more. 

Plodding along in the daily strife, 

Bearing the whips and the scorns of life, 

With never a whimper of pain or hate, 

For the sake of those who at home await. 

 

Only a dad, neither rich nor proud, 

Merely one of the surging crowd

Toiling, striving from day to day, 

Facing whatever may come his way, 

Silent, whenever the harsh condemn, 

And bearing it all for the love of them. 

 

Only a dad, but he gives his all

To smooth the way for his children small, 

Doing, with courage stern and grim, 

The deeds that his father did for him. 

This is the line that for him I pen, 

Only a dad, but the best of men.

 

Epitaph on a Friend by Robert Burns

An honest man here lies at rest,

The friend of man, the friend of truth,

The friend of age, and guide of youth:

Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,

Few heads with knowledge so inform’d;

If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;

If there is none, he made the best of this.

 

Short readings for funerals

If you don’t have much time to speak, or are worried about holding it together for a long time, these short funeral readings are perfect. They can also be used to start or end a funeral speech, like a eulogy.

 

Not In Vain by Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain:

If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

 

sunflowers by rupi kaur

despite knowing

they won’t be here long

they still choose to live

their brightest lives

 

Little Elegy by Elinor Wylie

Withouten you

No rose can grow;

No leaf be green

If never seen

Your sweetest face;

No bird have grace

Or power to sing;

Or anything

Be kind, or fair,

And you nowhere.

 

If ever there is a tomorrow…” from Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne

If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember.

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.

 

Late Fragment by Raymond Carver

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

 

A jisei by Banzan

Writing a death poem (or ‘jisei’) shortly before your passing was once a tradition in Japan, particularly among monks and samurai. As you can see from the two examples below, they could be contemplative or even funny. A collection of jisei like this one could provide plenty of inspiration for funeral readings or even sympathy messages.

 

Farewell –

I pass as all things do

dew on the grass.

 

A jisei by Moriya Sen’an

Bury me when I die

beneath a wine barrel

in a tavern.

With luck

the cask will leak

 

“Cowards die many times…” from Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,

It seems to me most strange that men should fear;

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come. 

 

For more help with arranging or attending a funeral…

We hope you’ve found these non-religious funeral readings helpful. For more advice on what to read at a funeral service, or what to say, wear, or take, have a look at the rest of our help centre here.

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