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.
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 these classics:
- Sunflowers by Mary Oliver
- Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
- 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
More interesting thoughts here: Death Deconstructed blog.
These books are recommended by our friends at Dead Good Guides and other celebrants:
Generations by Melanie Hart and James Loader
Rumi: A Spiritual Treasury
Wild Geese and other poems by Mary Oliver
Do Not Go Gentle: poems for funerals: by Neil Astley