Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Farewell poetry and readings to remember loved ones by

field at sunset.jpg

Our lives are made up of greetings and goodbyes – and, when it comes to saying farewell to those we love the most, finding the right words can be difficult.

After all, how can you eloquently express everything that they meant to you, in just a few words? 

When asked to speak at the funeral or memorial of a dearly departed friend or family member, some are lucky enough to feel able to write their own eulogies.

Others, lost for words, face an exhausting search for a non-religious reading, one which strikes the perfect balance of being affectionate, moving, uplifting, original, and respectful.

Thank goodness, then, for the great writers of the world, who set pen to paper and wrote from their hearts.


Read more: poignant goodbye letters and beautiful messages of farewell


From children’s literature to bereavement poems, Shakespearean ballads to powerful Disney lyrics, these readings will help you to find the words you need in times of grief and heartbreak.


The Wind in the Willows 

By Kenneth Grahame

Wind in the Willows

"The upper world was all too strong, it called to him still..."

If you look across the wealth of children's literature available, you will see that it teaches us many valuable life lessons. And Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In The Willows is no exception. Here, in just a few simple sentences, he sums up the feelings that stem from loss and moving on.

An extract from The Wind In The Willows

He saw clearly how plain and simple - how narrow, even - it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one's existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.


When I Am Dead My Dearest

By Christina Rossetti

Dewdrops

"I shall not feel the rain..."

Christina Rossetti penned this beautiful poem, all about life and death, in 1862. Unlike many others of the era, she offered a rare perspective into the woman’s point of view on loss – and her message to her beloved provides a few gentle word of comfort to those in mourning.

When I Am Dead My Dearest

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain;
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember
And haply may forget.

Fahrenheit 451

By Ray Bradbury 

Handprints in the sand

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies..."

This poignant extract reminds us that success is not measured in terms of fame or fortune; rather, it is measured in the impact we made on the lives of those around us, and how we are remembered after we are gone.

An extract from Fahrenheit 451

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so as long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.

Charlotte’s Web 

By EB White

"A spider's life can't help being something of a mess..."

"A spider's life can't help being something of a mess..."

Charlotte’s Web has a tragic ending; the little spider, after putting all of her strength and love into saving Wilbur, finds herself exhausted and close to death. But, before she passes, Charlotte takes a moment to remind us that a life is only worth living if we do our best for those around us. And, perhaps more importantly, Wilbur teaches us that true friends will never be forgotten.

An extract from Charlotte's Web:

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.

No Matter What 

By Debi Gliori

Stars in the sky

"Look at the stars, how they shine and glow..."

No Matter What is, without a doubt, one of the most affecting picture books ever written – and it seeks to teach children a powerful message about love and loss. Yes, when someone passes away, they can no longer remain with us on this world. But death does not take away the memories you shared with them, nor the love they felt for you; love, like star-light, goes on and on.

An extract from No Matter What

“Does love wear out” said Small, “does it break or bend? Can you fix it, stick it, does it mend?”

“Oh help,” said Large “I’m not that clever. I just know I’ll love you forever”.

Small said: “But what about when you’re dead and gone - would you love me then, does love go on?”

Large held Small snug as they looked out at the night, at the moon in the dark and the stars shining bright.

“Small, look at the stars – how they shine and glow. Yet some of those stars died a long time ago. Still they shine in the evening skies… love, like starlight, never dies”.

The Tempest

By William Shakespeare

"Our revels are now ended..."

"Our revels are now ended..."

Prospero’s speech in Act IV, Scene I is a powerful one to choose for a funeral reading. Written towards the end of Shakespeare's own life, it emphasises the beauty of the world that we live in, and the lives we make for ourselves here. Similarly, however, it reminds us that there comes a time when we must all exit the stage – and hints that something better awaits us when we are done playing our part. 

An extract from The Tempest

Our revels are now ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded in a sleep.

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep 

By Mary Elizabeth Frye

"I am in the birds that sing..."

"I am in the birds that sing..."

This bereavement poem is one which aims to lift the sorrows of mourners, and remind them that death does not have to be the end.

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die. 

The Velveteen Rabbit

By Margery Williams

"Once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

"Once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

When the Velveteen Rabbit’s owner has scarlet fever, all of his toys have to be destroyed for fear of infection. But the rabbit, his most cherished toy, has been so well loved that he becomes Real. And, while this means the end of their time together, the rabbit still visits the boy from time to time – and reminds us that, while circumstances often change, love always carries on.

An extract from The Velveteen Rabbit

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real." 

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. 

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt." 

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" 

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." 

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled. 

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.” 

Holy Sonnet X 

By John Donne

"Death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die."

"Death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die."

Donne takes an assertive stand against mortality in this sonnet, insisting that that mortality itself is mortal. Which, in other words, means that death doesn’t exist in the long run; the imprint we make upon the world is too great to fade away.

Holy Sonnet X

Death be not proud, though some have callèd thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better than thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

An extract from The Little Prince

By Antoine de Saint-Exupery 

"You'll have stars that can laugh!"

"You'll have stars that can laugh!"

There is a reason that so many adults remain fond of The Little Prince; this sweet story taught us a great deal about friendship, bravery, and growing up. It also taught us how to bid goodbye to those we love dearly – and where to find them again after they’re gone.

An extract from The Little Prince

"People have stars, but they aren't the same. For travellers, the stars are guides. For other people, they're nothing but tiny lights. And for still others, for scholars, they're problems. For my business man, they were gold. But all those stars are silent stars. You, though, you'll have stars like nobody else.

“What do you mean?”

"When you look up at the sky at night, since I'll be living on one of them, since I'll be laughing on one of them, for you it'll be as if all the stars are laughing. You'll have stars that can laugh!"

And he laughed again.

"And when you're consoled (everyone is eventually consoled), you'll be glad you've known me. You'll always be my friend. You'll feel like laughing with me. And you'll open your windows sometimes just for the fun of it ... And your friends will be amazed to see you laughing while you're looking up at the sky. Then you'll tell them, 'Yes, it's the stars; they always make me laugh!' And they'll think you're crazy. It'll be a nasty trick I played on you ..."

Roads Go Ever On

By JRR Tolkien

"Roads go ever ever on..."

"Roads go ever ever on..."

Tolkien was one of the greatest and most adept creative writers of our time – and, while it is his novels that are best remembered, his verses are similarly wonderful. The below, recited by Bilbo Baggins, reminds us that the road of life is a long and difficult one – but that it is one we must take. Come the end of our journey, we will find the rest we have been searching for.

Roads Go Ever On

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

 

Roads go ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

By Dylan Thomas

"They will always be unconquerable..."

"They will always be unconquerable..."

Roald Dahl often praised the work of Dylan Thomas - in Matilda, the bright little girl dubs his work as being "just like music" during a conversation with Miss Honey. So, when the beloved author passed away in 1990, it seemed only fitting that the Dahl family chose to read Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night at his funeral.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle 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 gentle 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 gentle 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 the 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.

Death Is Nothing At All

By Henry Scott Holland

"I have only slipped away into the next room..."

"I have only slipped away into the next room..."

Henry Scott Holland’s piece does not shy away from the fact that death is real, and that, yes, it separates us from those we love. However it also emphasises that, if the love between you and that person was real, then it will always stay with you and change your own way of living. More importantly, while the opportunity to make new memories with someone who has passed is gone, you can still make a new life and build separate memories based on what you learned from them in the past.

Death Is Nothing At All

Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before.

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

An extract from Julius Caeser

By William Shakespeare

"The valiant never taste of death but once..."

"The valiant never taste of death but once..."

Death is nothing to be feared, proclaims Shakespeare's Julius Caeser, particularly for those who have lived the life they truly wanted.

An extract from Julius Caeser

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

Candle On The Water, from Pete's Dragon

By Walt Disney

"I'll be your candle on the water..."

"I'll be your candle on the water..."

It may be a Disney song, but the Candle On The Water ballad from Pete's Dragon is loaded with meaning; that life is made easier by the presence of our family and friends, that those who die never truly leave us, and that love goes on and on.

Candle On The Water

I'll be your candle on the water
My love for you will always burn
I know you're lost and drifting
But the clouds are lifting
Don't give up, you have somewhere to turn

I'll be your candle on the water
'Till every wave is warm and bright
My soul is there beside you
Let this candle guide you
Soon you'll see a golden stream of light

A cold and friendless tide has found you
Don't let the stormy darkness pull you down
I'll paint a ray of hope around you
Circling in the air, lighted by a prayer

I'll be your candle on the water
This flame inside of me will grow
Keep holding on, you'll make it
Here's my hand, so take it
Look for me reaching out to show
As sure as rivers flow
I'll never let you go

An extract from Winnie the Pooh

By AA Milne

"I'll always be with you..."

"I'll always be with you..."

There has never been a children’s book that has provided us with quite as many soulful, inspiring, and life-affirming quotes as Winnie The Pooh – and the softly spoken bear did not let us down when it came to discussing loss, heartache, and goodbyes.

An extract from Winnie The Pooh

If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember.

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart... I'll always be with you.

Native American poem

Anonymous

"I am the sunlight on ripened grain..."

"I am the sunlight on ripened grain..."

This poem remains untitled and unclaimed by any author, but this simple Native American verse offers comfort to those in mourning, and reminds us that a person's spirit can never die. If we hold them in our hearts, they can remain with us each and every day of our lives - in the sound of a bird's song, the sight of sunlight on ripened grain, or in the breath of the wind.

Native American Poem

I give you this one thought to keep.
I am with you still. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not think of me as gone.
I am with you still in each new dawn.

Funeral Blues

By WH Auden

Made famous in Four Weddings & A Funeral, this poem offers a heartfelt portrait of the totality of love, the devastating consequences of its absence, and an emotional, intimate insight into what it feels like to grieve for someone special.

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 rest,
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 wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Cold

By Carol Ann Duffy

"It felt so cold..."

"It felt so cold..."

Beautiful, yet heart-breaking, Duffy’s poem examines the paradoxical feelings we experience after the death of a loved one; that conflicting sense of ordinariness, and of the ordinary thrown into disarray.

Cold

It felt so cold, the snowball which wept in my hands,
and when I rolled it along in the snow, it grew
till I could sit on it, looking back at the house,
where it was cold when I woke in my room, the windows
blind with ice, my breath undressing itself on the air.

Cold, too, embracing the torso of snow which I lifted up
in my arms to build a snowman, my toes, burning, cold
in my winter boots; my mother’s voice calling me in
from the cold. And her hands were cold from peeling
then dipping potatoes into a bowl, stopping to cup
her daughter’s face, a kiss for both cold cheeks, my cold nose.

But nothing so cold as the February night I opened the door
in the Chapel of Rest where my mother lay, neither young, nor old,
where my lips, returning her kiss to her brow, knew the meaning of cold.

An extract from Cymbeline

By William Shakespeare

"Fear no more the lightning-flash..."

"Fear no more the lightning-flash..."

It may be addressed to the deceased, but this Shakespearean verse is really designed to help mourners to cope with the loss of their beloved. Instead of seeing death as something frightening and final, the playwright encourages them to view it as a positive journey, one which puts an end to our earthly worries and concerns.

An extract from Cymbeline

Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winters rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone and ta'en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o' the great,
Thou art past the tyrants stoke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak;
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finish'd joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renowned be thy grave.

I Am Standing Upon The Seashore

By Henry Van Dyke

"She hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other..."

"She hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other..."

In this poem, Henry Van Dyke watches a ship travel across the ocean and disappear from his view. However, while she has faded from sight, she is still very much there – her journey has just taken her so far onwards that he can no longer see her. Those on other shoes, the narrator adds, will be able to view her in all of her stature, strength, and beauty – and, through imagining this, he is able to retain the memory of her as she once was. In this manner she is able to become immortal. 

I Am Standing Upon The Sea Shore

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone"

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me -- not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"

And that is dying...

Death comes in its own time, in its own way.
Death is as unique as the individual experiencing it.

Not In Vain

By Emily Dickinson

"I shall not live in vain..."

"I shall not live in vain..."

Perhaps the shortest on our list, this poem is by no means less meaningful; rather, it reminds us that death does not diminish all of our achievements, and that no one who was truly loved should consider themselves to have lived in vain.

Not In Vain

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain: 
If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, 
Or help one fainting robin 
Unto his nest again, 
I shall not live in vain.

Related

patton oswalt michelle mcnamara.jpg

Comedian shares moving post about grief after wife's sudden death

rexfeatures-390905ch.jpg

20 of the most powerful quotes on heartbreak in literature

rexfeatures-708945a.jpg

History's most powerful and poignant letters and diary entries

Comments

More

JK Rowling invented Quidditch to ‘annoy men’ after row with her ex

The Harry Potter author is such a badass

by Kayleigh Dray
07 Dec 2016

Watch Emma Watson star in chilling new trailer for The Circle

We’re getting serious Black Mirror vibes from this social media thriller

by Kayleigh Dray
07 Dec 2016

Read an exclusive extract from 2017's most hotly anticipated novel

Devour the first three chapters of the psychological thriller here

by Sarah Biddlecombe
06 Dec 2016

Stylist's pick of the best new books for 2017

From family sagas to crime thrillers

by Sarah Shaffi
05 Dec 2016

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: First look at new TV series

Elisabeth Moss dons Offred’s famous red gown for the first time

by Kayleigh Dray
05 Dec 2016

The Girl on the Train author, Paula Hawkins, is back with second book

In a Stylist.co.uk exclusive, here's everything you need to know

by Sarah Biddlecombe
29 Nov 2016

You can now spend the night in the world's first library hotel

Why not cosy up in your own book nook?

by Sarah Biddlecombe
29 Nov 2016

You can now read Jane Eyre in Charlotte Brontë’s own handwriting

A luxury edition of Brontë’s original manuscript has been reprinted.

by Moya Crockett
28 Nov 2016

Mary Berry to meet with ‘civilised’ bookworms who shun #BlackFriday

Forget #BlackFriday; Mary Berry is all about #CivilisedSaturday

by Kayleigh Dray
25 Nov 2016

10 beautiful books to buy as Christmas presents this season

by Scarlett Cayford
24 Nov 2016