Finding the right poem for a funeral can be a challenge. Not only do you have to set the right tone, you also need to think about your audience and how they’ll feel at the moment of your reading. Poetry can be a mechanism for the exploration of challenging emotions and the same poem can be met with a variety of responses, making it a powerful tool that can help us process what’s happened, what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling.

While some poems are uplifting and inspiring, others might be more melancholy, nostalgic or simply sad. This means it’s important to think about what you want to say with your choice of poem. In order to get you started, we’ve compiled a list of a few classic funeral poems that may help you express what you otherwise couldn’t.

You can always ask your chosen funeral director for their recommendations for classic funeral poems.


Positive Funeral Poems

The first on our list of classic funeral poems is Death (If I Should Go), a poem by Joyce Grenfell. Grenfell wrote a number of poems on the topic of death, though this remains her most famous and is often recited at funerals.

Death (If I Should Go) – Joyce Grenfell

If I should go before the rest of you

Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone,

Nor when I’m 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.


The beautiful positivity found in Helen Marshall’s poem makes it an incredibly popular choice of poem at funerals, particularly at non-religious services where you want to use poetry as a means of helping to process grief but also want to avoid mention of a God or afterlife.


Afterglow – 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.


‘Still With Us’ Funeral Poems

Often cited as one of the best poems to ever be written on the subject of death, Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep tackles the difficulties and sadness inherent in death by suggesting it is a new beginning rather than an end. It’s a powerful and thought-provoking poem that’s very well suited to funeral readings.


Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep – Mary 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.


Richard Fife’s poem talks about the way in which people remain with us even after they die. Rather than simply disappearing, the poet talks about the idea of every dead person being inextricably tied up and woven into other people in the form of thoughts, words and memories.


Memory Can Tell Us Only What We Were – Richard Fife

Memory can tell us only what we were,

In company with those we loved;

It cannot help us find out what each of us,

Alone, must now become.

Yet, no person is really alone;

Those who live no more still echo

Within our thoughts and words,

And what they did has become

Woven into what we are.


Irreplaceable Funeral Poems

Our next poem is written by Paul Irion and begins by simply explaining why everyone has gathered together, uniting all mourners in remembrance. By arguing that life can never be the same again, Irion immediately acknowledges the overwhelming importance of the deceased in many people’s lives and allows us to begin to process how our lives are now forever changed. This makes it one of the more powerful classic funeral poems.


A Death Has Occurred – Paul Irion

A death has occurred and everything is changed.

We are painfully aware that life can never be the same again,

That yesterday is over,

That relationships once rich have ended.

But there is another way to look upon this truth.

If life now went on the same,

Without the presence of the one who had died,

We could only conclude that the life we remember

Made no contribution,

Filled no space,

Meant nothing.

The fact that this person left behind a place

that cannot be filled is a high tribute to this individual.

Life can be the same after a trinket has been lost,

But never after the loss of a treasure.


‘See You Again’ Funeral Poems

I Will Wait For You is a fantastic choice of poem for those that believe in God, Heaven and the possibility that lovers, separated by death, may someday meet again. It’s often read at the funeral of a partner or husband or wife, and can bring hope to those that have loved and lost.


I Will Wait For You… – Stephen O’Brien

I will wait for you…

Though we never had a chance to say goodbye,

Remember me…

When winter snows are falling through a quiet sky

I’ll remember you

When, in our darkest hour,

You held my hand and prayed I wouldn’t go,

But a silent voice called out to me;

My time had come, and I had to travel Home…

Since then, I know your life has never been the same,

For I visit you each day:

So many times I’ve felt your pain:

I’ve watched you cry:

And I’ve heard you call my name…

But now, further along life’s road I stand

In a timeless world, just beyond your sight,

Waiting for the day when I can take your hand and and bring you across

To this land of Golden Light…

Till then, remember me, you understand – and try not to cry.

But if you do:

Let your tears fall

For the happiness and joy we knew,

And for the special love we shared,

For love can never die.


Though some may argue it’s not technically a poem, Henry Van Dyke’s Parable On Immortality is an excellent reading that implies that just because someone has left us, it doesn’t mean their significance is diminished in any way.


Parable On Immortality – Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore.  A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.  She is an object of beauty and strength.  I stand and watch until at last she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other.  Then someone at my side says, “There she goes.”

Gone where?  Gone from my sight…that is all.  She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.  Her diminished size is in me, not in her.  And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There she goes”, there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”


Classic funeral poems about how they lived

One of the most famous funeral poems to have ever been written, Thomas’ Do not go gently into that good night is a firm favourite amongst those who want to focus on the life of a lost one. Its passionate voice lends itself to a memorial for someone who lived life to the fullest.


Do not go gentle into that good night – Dylan Thomas

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.


If the funeral poems here aren’t quite right for your loved one, don’t lose heart. It may help to ask friends and family members if they know a poem that reminds them of the person who has died. It doesn’t have to be funeral-themed, either: perhaps there’s a poem that your loved one knew by heart, or one that talks about their favourite pastime.

A good way to get a lot of people’s thoughts on this is to ask online. Obituary webpages and social media accounts are good ways to reach out to funeral guests and get a quick reply, so it’s worth posting up a request for poetry suggestions there. You can make a free online obituary on the Beyond site here.

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