Poetry Readings for a Funeral Service

Quick Links to Selected Poems:

General Selections | Spouse | Parent | Child | Unexpected Death | Long Illness | African American | American Indian | Military


Remember

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 planned:
only remember me; you understand
it will be late to counsel them 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 I once had,
better by far you should forget and smile
than that you should remember and be sad.

Christina Rossetti

On Emily’s Father’s Death

In truth: from sad a good will sometimes grow,
though how it sprouts and blooms we never know;
tend now to all your evanescent pains—
in time from them one gathers greater grains.

samBdavis

Sonnet LXXI

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
from this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:

Nay, if you read this line, remember not
the hand that writ it; for I love you so,
that I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
if thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
when I perhaps compounded am with clay,
do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
but let your love even with my life decay;
lest the wise world should look into your moan
and mock you with me after I am gone.

William Shakespeare

I’d Like to Think

I’d like to think when life is done
that I had filled a needed post,
that here and there I’d paid my fare
with more than idle talk and boast;
that I had taken gifts divine,
the breath of life and manhood fine
and tried to use them now and then
in service for my fellow man.

Guest

The Last Invocation

At the last, tenderly,
from the walls of the powerful fortress’d house,
from the clasp of the knitted locks,
from the keep of the well closed doors,
let me be wafted.

Let me glide noiselessly forth;
with the key of softness unlock the locks— with a whisper,
set open the doors O soul.

Tenderly— be not impatient,
(strong is your hold O mortal flesh,
strong is your hold O love.)

Walt Whitman

Wild Swans at Coole (final verse)

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
they paddle in the cold
companionable streams or climb the air;
their hearts have not grown old;
passion or conquest, wander where they will,
attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water,
mysterious, beautiful;
among what rushes will they build,
by what lake’s edge or pool
delight men’s eyes when I awake someday
to find they have flown away.

Yeats

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
and a small cabin built there, of clay and wattles made:
nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
and live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I will have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
there midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
and evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
while I stand on the roadway, upon the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Yeats

From Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

The moving finger writes, and have writ
moves on: nor all thy piety or wit
shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.


From The Prophet on Death

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 honor.
Is the shepherd 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 in the sun?
And what is it 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 from 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 you shall truly dance.

Kahil Gibran

Do Not Weep For Me

Do not weep for me, for I have lived…
I have joined my hand with my fellows’ hands,
to leave the planet better than I found it.

Do not weep for me, for I have loved and been loved by
my family, by those I loved who loved me back
for I never knew a stranger, only friends.

Do not weep for me.
When you feel the ocean spray upon your face,
I am there.
When your heart beats faster at the dolphin’s leaping grace,
I am there.
When you reach out to touch another’s heart,
as now I touch God’s face,
I am there.
Do not weep for me. I am not gone.

Poet unknown (read for Michael Landon )

Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night

Do not go gently 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 gently 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 gently 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 that 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.

Dylan Thomas (read for Richard Burton)

Funeral Blues

Stop all t he 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 best,
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 woods:
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W. F. Auden (read in the film “Four weddings and a Funeral”)

Poems for a Funeral for Spouse

Remember

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 planned:
only remember me; you understand
it will be late to counsel them 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 I once had,
better by far you should forget and smile
than that you should remember and be sad.

Christina Rossetti

Sonnet LXXI

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
from this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:

nay, if you read this line, remember not
the hand that writ it; for I love you so,
that I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
if thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
when I perhaps compounded am with clay,
do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
but let your love even with my life decay;
lest the wise world should look into your moan
and mock you with me after I am gone.

William Shakespeare

Do Not Weep For Me

Do not weep for me, for I have lived…
I have joined my hand with my fellows’ hands,
to leave the planet better than I found it.

Do not weep for me, for I have loved and been loved by
my family, by those I loved who loved me back
for I never knew a stranger, only friends.

Do not weep for me.
When you feel the ocean spray upon your face,
I am there.
When your heart beats faster at the dolphin’s leaping grace,
I am there.
When you reach out to touch another’s heart,
as now I touch God’s face,
I am there.
Do not weep for me. I am not gone.

Poet unknown (read for Michael Landon )

The Widower

For a season there must be pain–
For a little, little space
I shall lose the sight of her face,
Take back the old life again
While She is at rest in her place.

For a season this pain must endure,
For a little. Little while
I shall sigh more often than smile
Till Time shall work me a cure,
And the pitiful days beguile.

For a season we must be apart,
For a little length of years,
Till my life’s last hour nears,
And above the beat of my heart,
I hear Her voice in my ears.

But I shall not understand –
Being set on some later love,
Shall not know her for whom I strove,
Till she reach me forth her hand,
Saying, “Who but I have the right?’
And out a troubled night
Shall draw me safe to the land.

Rudyard Kipling

Poems for a Parent’s Funeral

A Cut Finger

A cut finger
is numb before it bleeds,
it bleeds before it hurts,
it hurts until it begins to heal,
it forms a scab and itches
until finally, the scab is gone
and a small scar is left
where once there was a wound.
Grief is the deepest wound
you ever had.
Like a cut finger,
it goes through stages,
and leaves a scar.

Poet Unknown • Submitted by: Alicia Wells, a young girl trying to deal with mother’s death

In Memory of My Mother

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
you walking down a lane among the poplars
on your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday—
You meet me and you say:
“Don’t forget to see about the cattle— “
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along
a headland of green oats in June,
so full of repose, so rich with life—
And I see us meeting at the end of town
on a fair day by accident, after
the bargains are all made and we can walk
together through the shops and stalls and markets
free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
for it is a harvest evening now and we
are piling up the rocks against the moonlight
and you smile up at us— eternally.

Patrick Kavanagh

On Emily’s Father’s Death

In truth: from sad a good will sometimes grow,
though how it sprouts and blooms we never know;
tend now to all your evanescent pains—
in time from them one gathers greater grains.

samBdavis

Do Not Weep For Me

Do not weep for me, for I have lived…
I have joined my hand with my fellows’ hands,
to leave the planet better than I found it.

Do not weep for me, for I have loved and been loved by
my family, by those I loved who loved me back
for I never knew a stranger, only friends.

Do not weep for me.
When you feel the ocean spray upon your face,
I am there.
When your heart beats faster at the dolphin’s leaping grace,
I am there.
When you reach out to touch another’s heart,
as now I touch God’s face,
I am there.
Do not weep for me. I am not gone.

Poet unknown (read for Michael Landon)

Poems For Child’s Funeral

Epitaph for a Child

Here, freed from pain, secure from misery, lies
a child, the darling of his parents’ eyes:
A gentler lamb never sported on the plain.
A fairer flower will never bloom again:
few were the days allotted to his breath;
now let him sleep in peace his night of death.

Thomas Gray

Second Sowing

For whom
The milk ungiven in the breast
When the child is gone?

For whom
The love locked up in the heart
That is left alone?
That golden yield
Split sod once, overflowed an August field,
Threshed out in pain upon September’s floor,
Now hoarded high in barns, a sterile store.

Break down the bolted door;
Rip open, spread and pour
The grain upon the barren ground
Wherever crack in clod is found.

There is no harvest for the heart alone:
The seed of love must be
Eternally
Resown.


Poems for Funerals When an Unexpected Death

Do Not Weep For Me

Do not weep for me, for I have lived…
I have joined my hand with my fellows’ hands,
to leave the planet better than I found it.

Do not weep for me, for I have loved and been loved by
my family, by those I loved who loved me back
for I never knew a stranger, only friends.

Do not weep for me.
When you feel the ocean spray upon your face,
I am there.
When your heart beats faster at the dolphin’s leaping grace,
I am there.
When you reach out to touch another’s heart,
as now I touch God’s face,
I am there.
Do not weep for me. I am not gone.

Poet unknown (read for Michael Landon )

Funeral Blues

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 best,
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 woods:
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W. F. Auden (read in the film “Four weddings and a Funeral”)

Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night

Do not go gently 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 gently 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 gently 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 that 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.

Dylan Thomas (read for Richard Burton)

From Berck-Plage

Now the washed sheets fly in the sun,
The pillow cases are sweetening.

It is a blessing, it is a blessing:
The long coffin of soap-colored oak,

The curious bearers and the raw date
Engraving itself in silver with marvelous calm.

Sylvia Plath

Where the Sidewalk Ends

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins
And there the grass grows soft and white.
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk white arrows go,
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes, we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

Shel Silverstein • From Where the Sidewalk Ends • Harper Collins Publishers, NY • Copyright: 1974 Evil Eye Music, Inc.

You Came to Me

you came to me
and woke me in the night
small disheveled figure tumbled out
with dragging sheets
hurrying to
quit the sight of monsters and ther
inquisitive snout of that
intrusive stranger
death

you crept into my bed
and shivering curled against me
your firm blossoming cheek
beneath my hand
I felt your round knees
digging comfort from my
warm belly

the fiends and shaped then
leaped
from your narrow
wishbone breast
you after all had
cried santuary
and landed fully operative
into my dreams

and in my dreams
there was nothing ranged
father now mother now
god
to annul that
dark decree

Nancy Dingman Watson

Poems for a Funeral After a Long Illness

From The Prophet

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 honor.
Is the shepherd 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 in the sun?
And what is it 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 from 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 you shall truly dance.

Kahil Gibran

Do Not Weep For Me

Do not weep for me, for I have lived…
I have joined my hand with my fellows’ hands,
to leave the planet better than I found it.

Do not weep for me, for I have loved and been loved by
my family, by those I loved who loved me back
for I never knew a stranger, only friends.

Do not weep for me.
When you feel the ocean spray upon your face,
I am there.
When your heart beats faster at the dolphin’s leaping grace,
I am there.
When you reach out to touch another’s heart,
as now I touch God’s face,
I am there.
Do not weep for me. I am not gone.

Poet unknown (read for Michael Landon )

Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for one it is clear that he’ll never go back.

When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat, when
The sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not every man knows what he’ll discover instead,
When the weight of the past leans against nothing and the sky.

Is no more than remembered light, and the stories are suspended in flight,
Not every man knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.

Mark Strand

Poems for African American Funerals

When Storms Arise

When storms arise And dark’ning skies
    About me threat’ning lower,
To Thee, O Lord, I raise mine eyes,
To Thee my tortured spirit flies
    For solace in that hour.

The mighty arm
Will let no harm
    Come near me not befall me;
The voice shall quiet my alarm,
When life’s great battle waxeth warm–
    No foeman shall appall me.

Upon they breast
Secure I rest,
    From sorrow and vexation;
No more by sinful cares oppressed,
But in they presence ever blest,
O God of my salvation.

Go Down, Moses • Paul Laurence Dunvar (1895) • Edited by Richard Newman, Crown Publishing Group/Roundtable Press, Inc., NY, 1998 • From Conversations with God–Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans • By James Melvin Washington, Ph.D.

Free at Last

I know my Lord is a man of war;
He fought my battle at Hell’s dark door.
Satan thought he had me fast;
I broke his chain and got free at last.

Free at last, free at last,
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.
Free at last, free at last,
Thank God almighty, I’m free at last.

You can hinder me here, but you cant’ hinder me there;
The Lord in Heaven’s going to answer my prayer.
I went in the valley, but I didn’t go to stay;
My soul got happy and I stayed all day.

From Go Down, Moses • Richard Newman, Crown Publishing Group/Roundtable Press, Inc., NY, 1998

The Angels Are Watching Over Me

All night, all night
The angels are watching over me.
All night, all night
The angels are watching over me.

Someday Peter and someday Paul,
The angels are watching over me–
Ain’t but one God made us all,
The angels are watching over me,

You get there before I do,
The angels are matching over me–
Tell all my friends I’m coming too.
The angles are watching over me.

From Go Down, Moses • Richard Newman, Crown Publishing Group/Roundtable Press, Inc., NY, 1998

Funeral Readings for American Indians

In the great night my heart will go out,
Toward me the darkness comes rattling,
In the great night my heart will go out.
From the Papago

In Readings for Remembrance, Eleanor Munro, • Penguin Books, 2000

Perchance do we truly live on earth?
Not forever on earth,
But briefly here!
Be it jade, it too will be broken;
Be it gold, it too will be melted,
And even the plume of the quetzal decays.
Not forever on earth,
But briefly here!
From the Aztec

In Readings for Remembrance, Eleanor Munro • Penguin Books, 2000

The moon and the year
Travel and pass away;
also the day, also the wind.
Also the flesh passes away
To the place of its quietness.

From the Maya • In Readings for Remembrance, Eleanor Munro • Penguin Books, 2000

Poems for Military Funerals

From A Psalm of Life

Lives or great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Not every man knows what he shall sing at the end,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for one it is clear that he’ll never go back.

When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat, when
The sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not every man knows what he’ll discover instead,
When the weight of the past leans against nothing and the sky.

Is no more than remembered light, and the stories are suspended in flight,

Not every man knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.

Mark Strand

I was still thinking of …boys I knew for whom there had been no difference between war and peace, who had returned from Vietnam so scarred within and without that they couldn’t fit into the society they had been sent to defend, boys wounded more by sights and deeds than bullets. At the tip of the hill I sat beneath a sycamore nd stared idly across the next valley at the trees and scrub brush on the oppositre slope, my thoughts on the folly and inevitability of war.

Stephen Greenleaf

A Horseman Passes

A clan gathers at the Camp
Butler cemetery to bury Bill
my uncle; many people
meet among the uniform soldier
stones standing white about burial
tents. In life at death we stare
at the coal hue coffin
so smooth, so lacquery black
we can see ourselves in it,
and cast cold eyes
at what reflections passing by.

People mull on the man-pun being
put under, facing our uncertain
concerns whether we could have been
better to him. The minister points
to the good in Bill we as his
familiars often overlooked
in our need to pull down one with less
to boost our suspected mores,
and I wonder if he ever felt true
love in his time, if his Pollock niche
with my kin was close enough
to appease the need to be needed
we all need. I know now

the origins of burial sadness lie
in the sounds, in the grave voice
of preacher prayer
in solemn soliloquy
of an Amvet Rep
and in the uncommon catch
of breath in mourning
fighting the foul cry– for
it’s only our relative fears
that brings to us related tears.

samBdavis