Funeral readings and poems

funeral readings

Looking for funeral readings and poems? We can help.

With the anchor of a celebrant or faith leader, family and friends can pay their respects by taking turns to speak or read to make a funeral personal.

For some, funerals are a private, family affair, very low-key. For some, tradition is key, with a wake held at home and rituals and traditions guiding behaviour. When a key figure in the community dies, a funeral can become a community event. This is especially true for young people where a whole school may be caught up in mourning and paying respects.  For others, faith leads the way at a difficult time, with bible readings, hymns and prayers. These days, you are as likely to hear a poignant poem as a bittersweet singalong – like The Beatles’ All You Need is Love.

If you are looking for funeral readings and poems, you can use your own words, poems, song lyrics, rhymes, quotes – anything that touches on the mood and has meaning. Funeral readings and poems can be at their best when they’re hand-crafted. Try your hand a creating a tribute with the 3 easy steps below.

Make it easy for others – leave a note of any favourite poems or passages you’d like read at your funeral in your Wishes. You can also capture key facts about your life, a potted history, highlights and anecdotes in the Memory Box – hugely helpful to someone writing a tribute for you when the time comes.

The book Poems and Readings for Funerals has a broad range of ideas.

The website Funeral Helper has a huge library of readings for funerals.

Poet Mary Oliver has a wonderful touch – very connected to nature – for non-religous but spiritual poems. Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate, has wonderful deep, meaningful and light funny poems. Her work is rich and delicious in its careful craft but for all its genius, it’s also really accessible… it’s not going to put people off or make them feel stupid.

Great writers have created powerful and moving lines about the deaths of loved ones that are often quoted at funerals.

Tennyson spent 17 years writing In Memorium for fellow writer and great love Hallam after his early death. It deals with loss in depth and breadth and captures his experience of the pressure from others to ‘pull yourself together’. Queen Victoria found the poem a great help when she lost Prince Albert. In Memorium contains the oft quoted lines: “Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all”.

Another well-kent poem – that featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral is WH Auden’s Stop the Clocks, which he wrote for partner Christopher Isherwood.

“Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep, He hath awakened from the dream of life…”
Mick Jagger read this from Shelley’s Adonais at a memorial concert for Rolling Stones drummer, Brian Jones at London’s Hyde Park in 1969 before a crowd of 300,000.

We asked people in the street what words or passages they’d like at their funeral.

People who are not religious often use poetry for readings at a funeral, interment, memorial or ash scattering. Some are very simple:

by Jackie Kay for Julie Darling

You might forget the exact sound of her voice,
Or how her face looked when sleeping.
You might forget the sound of her quiet weeping
Curled into the shape of a half moon,
When smaller than her self, she seemed already to be leaving
Before she left, when the blossom was on the trees
And the sun was out, and all seemed good in the world.
I held her hand and sang a song from when I was a girl –
Heil Ya Ho Boys, Let her go Boys
And when I stopped singing she had slipped away,
Already a slip of a girl again, skipping off,
Her heart light, her face almost smiling.
And what I didn’t know, or couldn’t see then,
Was that she hadn’t really gone.
The dead don’t go till you do, loved ones.
The dead are still here holding our hands.

If I Should Go
by 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.

These lovely words by Ruth Burgess are ideal for an ash scattering:

Into the freedom of wind and sunshine
We let you go
Into the dance of the stars and the planets
We let you go
Into the wind’s breath and the hands of the star maker
We let you go
We love you, we miss you, we want you to be happy
Go safely, go dancing, go running home

Some are more poetic – like the classics from Mary Oliver: Sunflowers and Wild Geese.

  • Do not stand at my grave and weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye
  • The force that through the green fuse drives the flower by Dylan Thomas
  • So Many Different Lengths of Time by Brian Patten

See more interesting thoughts here: Death Deconstructed blog.

These books are recommended by our friends at Dead Good Guides and other celebrants:

Create your own funeral poem

Our favourite wordsmith, Stuart Delves of Henzteeth, gifted us this exercise. It’s a simple way to create a powerful and very personal tribute to someone. He calls it a Metaphor Poem. You can make your own and read it at a funeral, put the words on a gravestone or post a tribute.

  1. Think about the person you are paying a tribute to… their habits, style, personal qualities, abstract associations.
  2. Fill in the blanks in the statements below – do it quickly; go with the first thing that comes to mind; it’s fresher that way.
  3. You can share it with your private network or post a public tribute on our Notices+Tributes page.

S/he was… a colour
S/he was… an item of clothing
S/he was… a form of transport
S/he was… a flower
S/he was… an item of furniture
S/he was… a drink
S/he was… a time of day
S/he was… a sound

Here’s mine for my mum:

by Barbara

She was duck egg blue and crimson haze slapped on with a thick brush
She was turquoise lurex tucked into wellies, slapping as she walked
She was a bright red shiny bike, good as new and parcelled up from Santa
She was primroses in the Spring, cheery and daring, braving the cold
She was a 70s music system, all knobs and dials, a party in the offing
She was sparkling Appeltise, clear and bright
She was a dawn chorus, a sunrise, a good drying day
She was a comforting whisper, a peal of laughter and a Tarzan yodel.

And thanks to my friend Fiona for sharing hers for her mum.

by Fiona

She was peacock purple, shrill and glinting
She was silk in Seventies kaftan, wafting
She was a dinghy – fast flowing, rescuing
She was gladioli tall and sword, sheathed
She was a stool, home-upholstered bolstering
She was a long Martini, sun-drenched, cheering
She was too early in the morning ever present
She was a key in the lock – home renewing

by Doug

She was the wallpaper from a 70s sitcom
She was a patterned dress, an artist’s smock and overalls with yellow marigolds at the ends of painty sleeves
She was a pony and trap on a holiday beach
She was a bunch of crysanthemums on the windowsill
She was formica and glass, tall stools and kitchen worktops
She was Cremola Foam in a novelty glass
She was lunchtime
She was song, vibrant and bold

by Ben

She was crimson with passion and rage, like her hair and her lips
She was a fake fur coat; warm colourful and attention seeking
She was the TGV, always moving with panache and at high speed
She was a tulip, full of temporary vitality and colour
She was campari and fresh orange – not everyone’s cup of tea!
She was late morning on a Sunday, in the yard with a croissant and coffee, and some sunshine
She was a melody on a piano. Short and sweet.