Choosing the perfect funeral poem
Poems have always been popular at funerals and are often included in a eulogy. They can help you express your grief and provide the words you’re not able to find yourself at a difficult time.
Janet Lees, an award-winning poet and artist, says, ‘A poem can say so much in so few words, expressing something huge and universal in an instant.’
If you’d like to include some poetry at your loved one’s funeral, find out how to pick the perfect poem below – plus some tips on poetry readings for funerals.
Why have poetry at a funeral?
Poems can form part of a eulogy or you can choose to have a separate poetry reading. ‘Poetry is something we tend to reach for at the most emotionally charged times in our lives,’ Janet says, ‘from falling in love to losing someone close.’
A poem can also be a connection to the person you’ve lost. ‘It could describe something they cared about, your relationship to them, be a reminder of them, or something comforting about the process of grief,’ says Tiffany Atkinson, poet and professor of creative writing (poetry) at the University of East Anglia.
Poetry may also give you more choice than traditional or religious readings. Some popular poems include Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep by Mary Elizabeth Fry, and Remember by Christina Rossetti. More contemporary choices, such as Funeral Blues by WH Auden – made famous by the film Four Weddings and a Funeral – or something humorous like A Long Cup of Tea by Michael Ashby, can help the funeral feel more modern or personal too.
How to choose a funeral poem
Your loved one may have asked for a specific poem at their funeral, but if not, where do you turn if you’re not usually a poetry fan?
‘A good place to start is an anthology of remembrance poems,’ says Professor Atkinson. ‘Read through and find one that feels right. It could be about how you remember your loved one or something they might’ve liked to hear at their funeral.’
This can be quite an emotional process. Janet says, ‘The best way to choose is to hold the person you’ve lost in your heart and see which poems speak to you.’ Still not sure what poem to pick? See our selection of popular poems for funerals at the end of this article.
Giving a funeral poetry reading
To help prepare for the reading, practise the poem at home. You don’t need to memorise it but, ‘try reading it aloud so you get used to the sound and the shape of the words,’ says Prof Atkinson. Stick the poem to the fridge, for example, to remind you to practice whenever you’re in the kitchen.
Try to sound as natural as possible too. ‘Many people feel they have to use a special poetry voice when giving a reading,’ adds Prof Atkinson, ‘but it’s always better in your own voice.’ And slow right down – most people speed up when speaking in public, so take it slowly.
On the day, taking a few deep breaths before going up to read can help with nerves. Janet says, ‘Breathe into your abdomen, rather than your chest, hold for a second or two, then breathe out slowly.’ And don’t worry about getting upset or crying. ‘It’s fine,’ says Janet. ‘You’re honouring your loved one with tears as well as with words.’
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong poetry for a funeral, or ‘proper’ way to do a reading. If you find something that expresses how you feel about the person you love, that’s the perfect poem to share with everyone else who loved them.
• For help arranging a funeral, or bereavement support, please see our support & advice.
More funeral poems
Death is too negative for me So I'll be popping off For a long cup of tea Do splash out On two bags in the pot And for my god's sake Keep the water hot Please pick the biggest mug You can find Because size really does matter At this time I'll pass on the Lapsang With that Souchong And that stuff with bergamot And stick with my favourite friend You know the English breakfast blend Breakfast! thanks for reminding me There's just time before I fail To stand on ceremony (Two rashers of best smoked back Should keep me smelling sweet Up the smokestack) So, mother, put the kettle on for me It's time, mother, for my long cup of tea
Oh all the time that e'er I spent, I spent it in good company;
And any harm that e'er I've done, I trust it was to none but me;
May those I've loved through all the years. Have memories now they'll e'er recall; So fill me to the parting glass,
Goodnight, and joy be with you all.
Oh all the comrades that e'er I had, Are sorry for my going away;
And all the loved ones that e'er I had. Would wish me one more day to stay.
But since it falls unto my lot. That I should leave and you should not, I'll gently rise and I'll softly call
Goodnight, and joy be with you all.
Of all good times that e'er we shared, I leave to you fond memory;
And for all the friendship that e'er we had. I ask you to remember me;
And when you sit and stories tell, I'll be with you and help recall;
So fill to me the parting glass,
God bless, and joy be with you all.
If I should go tomorrow
It would never be goodbye,
For I have left my heart with you,
So don't you ever cry.
The love that's deep within me,
Shall reach you from the stars,
You'll feel it from the heavens,
And it will heal the scars.
If I should die 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.
Feel no guilt in laughter, he’d know how much you care.
Feel no sorrow in a smile that he is not here to share.
You cannot grieve forever; he would not want you to.
He’d hope that you could carry on the way you always do.
So, talk about the good times and the way you showed you cared,
The days you spent together, all the happiness you shared.
Let memories surround you, a word someone may say
Will suddenly recapture a time, an hour, a day,
That brings him back as clearly as though he were still here,
And fills you with the feeling that he is always near.
For if you keep those moments, you will never be apart
And he will live forever locked safely within your heart.
O soft embalmer of the still midnight!
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom-pleased eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine;
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes,
Or wait the amen, ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities;
Then save me, or the passèd day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oilèd wards,
And seal the hushèd casket of my soul.
When I am dead, my dearest
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.
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.
Do not shed tears when I have gone but smile instead because I have lived. Do not shut your eyes and pray to God that I'll come back but open your eyes and see all that I have left behind.
I know your heart will be empty because you cannot see me but still I want you to be full of the love we shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live only for yesterday or you can be happy for tomorrow because of what happened between us yesterday.
You can remember me and grieve that I have gone or you can cherish my memory and let it live on.
You can cry and lose yourself, become distraught and turn your back on the world or you can do what I want - smile, wipe away the tears, learn to love again and go on.