Guide to Readings and Poems for Funeral Ceremonies

Funeral readings offer us a way to express our feelings about the loss of a loved one. They are used during funerals, memorials services, and other celebrations to pay honor to the deceased, evoke memories and offer comfort to those who are mourning. Two or three readings are typical, though you may use more or less, depending on the service you are designing. Readings may be secular, religious, or a combination of the two. Poetry, quotations, song lyrics, scriptural or narrative passages can all be appropriate and beautiful additions to a service.

Because funeral readings are available in so many forms and styles, deciding on the right readings to use can be overwhelming. To help narrow down your choices, consider the following questions.

  • Is the passage, poem, or quote a favorite of the deceased?
  • Does the reading trigger memories of the deceased?
  • Will the reading illustrate a point about the deceased personality or philosophy of life?
  • Will the reading communicate emotions?
  • What would the deceased think about the reading?
  • Is the reading respectful and appropriate?
  • Does the reading express how you feel?
  • Will the reading offer comfort to the mourners?

Non-Religious Funeral Readings

Secular funeral readings are those that are not associated with a religious context. An example of this type of funeral reading would be an excerpt from a book or play. One popular choice is called To Those Who Mourn from Daphne Du Maurie’s “The Rebecca Notebook.”

I would say to those who mourn – and I can only speak from my own experience – look upon each day that comes as a challenge, as a test of courage. The pain will come in waves, some days worse than others, for no apparent reason. Accept the pain. Do not suppress it. Never attempt to hide grief from yourself. Little by little, just as the deaf, the blind, the handicapped develop with time an extra sense to balance disability, so the bereaved, the widowed, will find new strength, new vision, born of the very pain and loneliness which seem at first, impossible to master. I address myself more especially to the middle-aged who, like myself, look back to over thirty years or more of married life and find it hardest to adapt. The young must, of their very nature, heal sooner than ourselves.

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Religious Readings

Scripture offers a rich collection of passages that can be used as funeral readings. Your faith and the faith of the deceased will help guide you in selecting appropriate Biblical passages. While you have a great deal of flexibility in deciding what readings to choose, some denominations have preferred selections. Your clergy and funeral director can also help you narrow down your choices.

Psalms are among the most popular religious readings. Psalm 23, for example, is often used as a funeral reading.

Psalm 23
The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul;
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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Poetry Readings for a Funeral

There are hundreds of beautiful and appropriate poems that can be used for funeral readings. They range from serious and sentimental to humorous. What is right for your service will depend on your personal preference and the person you are honoring. There are a number of poems which are considered standards. These are used for many funerals and almost always set the perfect tone. One example is Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night.”

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.

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Quotations for a Funeral

Quotations are often used as the basis for a eulogy. They are also used as part of a funeral service and may be printed in the funeral program. You can find quotations in books, films, plays, and other literature. There are many listings available on the Internet and books containing quotes are widely available. We have included a listing of some popular funeral quotations such as:

Have courage for the great sorrows in life, and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake. Victor Hugo

Visit our Funeral Quotations Page for More Examples

Original Compositions for a Funeral

For people who are graced with writing talent, the option of creating an original composition can be a good choice since it can add a high level of personalization. Your composition can be an essay, a poem, or some other narrative. You can use the examples we have provided for inspiration. Keep in mind the goal of the piece: to pay respect to a deceased friend or loved one.

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