Farewell poetry and readings to remember loved ones by

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Kayleigh Dray
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Farewell poetry for the recently bereaved

25 beautiful and meaningful pieces of poetry and prose, each of which has been selected to help you find the words you need to say goodbye.

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, and original, yet still respectful.

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

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

How Do I Love Thee?

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning married another renowned English writer Robert Browning and, during their courtship, wrote the sonnet How Do I Love Thee?

The moving and emotionally-charged sonnet remains one of the most popular poems in English literature.

How Do I Love Thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

The Wind in the Willows 

By Kenneth Grahame

Forest willow river

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


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 


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

Spiders web with raindrops

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

Night sky

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

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”.

You can watch James McAvoy read No Matter What on CBeebies’ Bedtime Stories in the video below:

The Tempest

By William Shakespeare

Feather quill and ink

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.

Intimations of Immortality

By William Wordsworth

Beach scene with birds flying in the sky

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.

Intimations of Immortality

What though the radiance which was once so bright~
Be now forever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.

The Velveteen Rabbit

By Margery Williams

Two rabbits on a mouse trap

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


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 

Stars in the night sky

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

Road through a field

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.

An extract from The Lord of the Rings (’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

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.

An extract from 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.

You can read this poem in full here.

Death Is Nothing At All

By Henry Scott Holland

Sun shining on a wooden door under white pillars

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

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare book cover

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

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.

An extract from 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,
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

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



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, be it in the sound of a bird’s song, the sight of sunlight on ripened grain, or in the breath of the wind.

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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.

An extract from Funeral Blues

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.

You can read this poem in full here.


By Carol Ann Duffy

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.

An extract from 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…

You can read Cold in full here.

An extract from Cymbeline

By William Shakespeare

Lightening in the sky over tree tops

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.


By Edward Thomas

Train driving through trees

Edward Thomas’ poem, Adlestrop, tells the tale of an unscheduled stop between Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. Due to this stop, the poet had some time to reflect and enjoyed an unexpected serene moment where his senses were placated by the natural world. It’s a simple and profoundly beautiful piece of writing, which speaks of hope and peace. However, it is still incredibly emotional, which is why it has been selected for inclusion in the book Poems That Make Grown Women Cry, which is available to purchase here.


Yes. I remember Adlestrop…
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop, only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Gone From My Sight

By Henry Van Dyke

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. 

An extract from Gone From My Sight

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.

You can read Gone From My Sight in full here.

Not In Vain

By Emily Dickinson

Little robin perched on a tree

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.

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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