A cup of tea and some poetry

Funeral Goodbye Poem: Choosing The Right Words

Processing the passing of a loved one and moving through the complex stages of grief can prove to be one of the most difficult and emotionally demanding experiences we are likely to face. 

At such an overwhelming time, many people naturally find comfort and solace in poetry, identifying in its words an artful expression of how one feels about the departed and perhaps bringing back treasured memories shared together. These poems are often timeless, connecting we who feel grief today with those who know only too well what that meant decades or even centuries ago.

It is for its timelessness and poignancy that poetry can also play a prominent part in the funeral service, encapsulating the life of our loved one and marking their send off in a way that suits their life and what they held to be important.

But finding – or even writing – the perfect poem that achieves those things can add to the existing and understandable stress you may be feeling. In this guide, we’d like to help you choose the right words to say goodbye with a poem, whether that’s a popular one or your own.

Popular and famous funeral poems

Popular and famous funeral poems  – those that are a staple of UK remembrance services – have withstood the test of time for a reason: they carry a universal resonance that touches the hearts of mourners across generations.

Let’s take a look at a few:

  1. I’m There Inside Your Heart (written by Unknown)

The origin of this poem may be shrouded in debate, leaving uncertainty about its exact author and when it was written. However, one undeniable truth remains: this poem is beautiful. It captures the surreal sadness of someone being here one day and gone the next, and tells the reader or listener that the departed hasn’t really gone. 

We carry them with us every day:

Right now I’m in a different place

And though we seem apart

I’m closer than I ever was,

I’m there inside your heart.

I’m with you when you greet each day

And while the sun shines bright

I’m there to share the sunsets, too

I’m with you every night.

I’m with you when the times are good

To share a laugh or two,

And if a tear should start to fall

I’ll still be there for you.

And when that day arrives

That we no longer are apart,

I’ll smile and hold you close to me,

Forever in my heart.

  1. Funeral Blues (written by W H Auden)

Few poems better encapsulate the raw grief of losing a loved one than Funeral Blues. Its tone is one of solemn disbelief that the world continues to turn even in the absence of the departed, leading to a sense of isolation to which many people can relate:

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.

  1. Lights Out (written by Edward Thomas)

Written in 1917, Thomas’s words recognise the inevitability of death, something we must all face at one time or another. While that might be a daunting prospect, the comparison to our daily sleep cycle provides some level of comfort to mourners who may see the loss as a reminder of their own mortality:

I have come to the borders of sleep,

The unfathomable deep

Forest where all must lose

Their way, however straight,

Or winding, soon or late;

They cannot choose.

Many a road and track

That, since the dawn’s first crack,

Up to the forest brink,

Deceived the travellers,

Suddenly now blurs,

And in they sink.

Here love ends,

Despair, ambition ends;

All pleasure and all trouble,

Although most sweet or bitter,

Here ends in sleep that is sweeter

Than tasks most noble.

There is not any book

Or face of dearest look

That I would not turn from now

To go into the unknown

I must enter, and leave, alone,

I know not how.

The tall forest towers;

Its cloudy foliage lowers

Ahead, shelf above shelf;

Its silence I hear and obey

That I may lose my way

And myself.

  1. Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep (written by Mary Elizabeth Frye)

Many of us would like our funeral service to be a celebration of life, rather than an occasion to mourn. Instead of dwelling on what has been lost, Mary Elizabeth Frye’s poem, written in 1932 to comfort a family friend, reassures the reader that the departed lives on after they have passed away:

Do not stand at my grave and weep

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun 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 stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.

  1. Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night (written by Dylan Thomas)

Penned by the legendary Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night uses evocative – and, at times, desperate – language as a rallying cry for mourners to honour the departed by embracing life to the fullest:

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.

Writing your own poem

You might find that the words of another prove unsuitable when it comes to saying your goodbye. Writing your own funeral goodbye poem allows you to create a deeply personal and heartfelt tribute that reflects the unique bond you shared with your loved one.

Here are a few suggestions to allow you to get the most out of your creation:

Reflect on cherished memories

Before putting pen to paper, take a moment to remember the treasured times that you spend with your loved one. Reflect on moments of laughter, shared experiences, and the unique qualities that made them special to you. These memories will become the cornerstone of your poem, allowing you to create a heartfelt tribute that celebrates their life and the impact they had on those around them.

Embrace your emotions

Grief, as we’ve written before, is a complex tapestry of emotions. Embrace those feelings as you write – whether it’s the ache of loss, the joy of a memory, or the profound impression that their passing has had on you, all are worthy of inclusion.  In short, let your emotions guide your words, for it’s in these raw and honest feelings that your poem will find its true authenticity and power.

Find your poetic voice

You don’t need to be an experienced poet to pen a heartfelt goodbye; your unique voice and perspective are what will make your poem special. Instead of trying to emulate the famous lines of Dylan Thomas or W H Auden, allow your words to flow naturally, letting your personality shine through and resonate with your audience.

Capture shared experiences

Whether the departed was always arriving late, loved trains, served their community wholeheartedly, or made a lot of friends through their career, including these things in your poem can resonate with your audience through shared experience. Those who knew them can recognise the person they loved in the lines you’ve written and associate their own memories with those that you include.

Keep it concise

When it comes to writing a funeral poem, the power of brevity should not be underestimated. It doesn’t need to be lengthy; instead, a concise and focused piece often carries the most impact. Choose your words thoughtfully, aiming to capture the essence of your feelings in a way that resonates with both you and those who will hear or read your tribute.

Saying goodbye to a loved one can be one of the hardest things imaginable. Grief can engulf us, leaving us searching for ways to navigate the complex emotions that arise. In these challenging times, poetry emerges as a powerful tool to help us find solace and express the profound love and gratitude we hold for those who have touched our lives.

Whether you choose a popular and famous funeral poem that has withstood the test of time or decide to pen your own heartfelt verses, the act of reading a goodbye poem at their funeral becomes a deeply personal tribute. It becomes a way to celebrate the life of your loved one, encapsulate the cherished memories you shared, and bid a fond farewell filled with love and gratitude.

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