Death and grief are things that will affect everyone. It doesn’t matter what else the Universe throws your way, we all end up losing the people we love to Death’s gentle embrace. Some grief is a hard, rough thing. It consumes you. Some grief is bittersweet, coloring your world gray but not consuming all. Some grief is delayed, or the passing is anticipated, expected, and easy to cope with. Everyone grieves differently, too. There is no correct way to grieve for your grandparents, parents, siblings, children, friends, spouse, lovers, or pets. Grief may be universal and grieving individual, but all of us struggle for how to express our love and emotions to the deceased. Funeral poems and mourning poems can help a great deal.
When my father passed away suddenly in my early 20s, I channelled my grief through gallows humor, baking, and immersing myself in old photo albums and his walk-in closet. I struggled with words to express the shock of the loss, the pain I felt for my mother and sister’s grief, the helpless feeling I carried inside me. I was profoundly grateful to my long-time hair stylist who gave me a hug, said “You talk about whatever you want, only you know how you feel,” and took me back to my dad’s favorite shade of blonde. Finding poetry that mirrored my emotions was critical for me. Poetry helps us express emotional extremes: love, joy, depression, rage, and, yes, grief. Whether you’re needing the right—although nothing feels right when you’re mourning—words for a funeral reading, eulogy, or obituary, or are simply looking for poems to help you with your own emotions and grieving process these poems are beautiful expressions of love, sadness, hope, and peace.
“Mourning Poem for the Queen of Sunday” by Robert Hayden
Perfect for expressing the unfairness of a life taken too soon.
Check out more of Hayden’s poems in his Collected Poems.
“Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson
Perfect for understanding the inevitability of death.
“In this short Life that only lasts an hour” by Emily Dickinson
Perfect for accepting fate.
In this short Life that only lasts an hour
How much—how little—is within our power
Check out more of Dickinson’s poems in The Essential Emily Dickinson.
“Elegy” by Aracelis Girmay
Perfect for a beautiful and non-religion-specific version of heaven.
Check out more of Girmay’s poems in Kingdom Animalia.
“The Journey of My Life” by Rabindranath Tagore
Perfect for feeling the comforting voice of the departed.
Check out this poem and others of Tagore’s in The Essential Tagore.
“Grief” by Barbara Crooker
Perfect for conveying the need to wallow in your grief.
Check out more of Crooker’s poems in Gold.
“When the very last grief” by Vera Pavlova, translated by Steven Seymour
Perfect for articulating the loss of self when you lose your partner or child.
When the very last grief
deadens all our pain,
I will follow you there
on the very next train,
not because I lack strength
to ponder the end result,
but maybe you forgot to bring
pills, a necktie, razor blades…
Check out more of Pavlova’s poems in If There is Something to Desire: One Hundred Poems.
“This Glittering Grief” by Robert Liddell Lowe
Perfect for mourning a short but beautiful life.
Check out more of Lowe’s poems in The Liable Tree and Other Poems.
“Pietà” by Kevin Young
Perfect for grappling with the loss of faith that can occur as a survivor.
Check out more of Young’s poems in Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1995–2015.
“What The Soul Doesn’t Want” by Lorna Crozier
Perfect for indulging the (rightful) feeling that your loved one is irreplaceable.
Check out the eponymous poem and more in What the Soul Doesn’t Want.
“After the Funeral” by Peter Everwine
Perfect for looking towards the practical next steps.
Check out more of Everwine’s poems in Listening Long and Late.
Has poetry ever helped you cope with your grief? What are your beloved poems to read at funerals? What funeral poems would you like read at your own life celebration?