What Are Some Thoughtful Poems to Read at a Memorial Service?

By Roxy FavrettoLast Updated June 24, 2020
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When you lose a loved one, it's important to honor their memory in a way that holds meaning for you. You might choose to arrange a memorial service that displays your respect for their life, shows how much they meant to you and helps you and others process your grief in a purposeful way. Some people choose to write their own eulogies to read during the service, while others prefer to read a poignant poem that expresses their feelings in a heartfelt way or that helps them find the words they're having difficulty conveying. If you’re searching for a poem to read at your loved one’s funeral, consider one of these five thoughtful options, each penned by a well-known poet.

“Remember” by Christina Rossetti

Born in London to an Italian poet in exile, Christina Rossetti wrote some of the most famous poems of the Victorian era. Many of her works focused on the topics of death and sadness, and one of her most notable works is “Remember,” which is often read at funerals and memorial services. The poem gives voice to the person who has passed away and asks mourners to remember her fondly. However, it also gives the mourners permission to forget her in the future, as the author wants her loved ones to be happy rather than wallow in sadness after her death.

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An excerpt of this poem reads:

"Yet if you should forget me for a while

And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

For if the darkness and corruption leave

A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

Better by far you should forget and smile

Than that you should remember and be sad."

Find the full version of "Remember" here.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost

Robert Frost grew up in New England and wrote at length about the region. His most famous works relate to nature, specifically man’s relationship with nature and the meaning of life. That sentiment is evident in “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” which uses the life cycle of a flower as a metaphor for human death. Frost’s theme is that nothing lasts forever, no matter how beautiful or “gold” it is. He compares death to the ruin of the Garden of Eden and the ending of a day. At eight lines, the poem is short, but it relays a message of acceptance of death's inevitability and appreciate of life's beauty.

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An excerpt of this poem reads:

"So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay."

Find the full version of "Nothing Gold Can Stay" here.

“Crossing the Bar” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson was one of the most famous poets in the Victorian age. He grew up in a troubled household in England and often turned to his poetry as a way to escape his turbulent life. Throughout the years, he wrote eulogies in the form of poems for lost friends and family members. “Crossing the Bar” is a poem he wrote after the death of his son, Lionel, during a time that left the poet searching for the meaning of life through religion and spirituality. He wrote this particular poem while on a boat, and it compares death to going out to sea. It also mentions meeting the “Pilot’s” face after crossing the bar, which may be a metaphor for God or a higher being.

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An excerpt of this poem reads:

"Twilight and evening bell,

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crost the bar."

Find the full version of "Crossing the Bar" here.

“Because I could not stop for Death (479)” by Emily Dickinson

Massachusetts native Emily Dickinson is perhaps one of the most famous American poets in history, and her poem “Because I could not stop for Death (479)” is one of her more notable works. Often read at funerals and memorial services, the poem depicts death as a visitor to the person’s home who takes the author away in a carriage. Death and the author take a ride through town, passing fields and schools before coming to a stop at her final destination. The poem talks of the sun setting, a house that seems to be swelling from the ground and how eternity feels like only a day.

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An excerpt of this poem reads:

"Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality."

Find the full version of "Because I could not stop for Death" here.

“A Child Said, What Is the Grass?” by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman grew up in Brooklyn and is also one of the most famous poets in the history of the U.S. Much of his work focuses on nature and love, and he manages to find beauty in almost every situation, including death. That's the theme of the poem “A Child Said, What Is the Grass?” It begins with a young child asking the author “What is grass?” He goes on to think about the various answers he can give the child, but he's unhappy with all the answers. Finally, he wonders what has become of all the people who died in the past who are buried under the grass, coming to the conclusion that the grass is proof they aren't really dead. The poem is a bit longer than the others on the list, but it has an uplifting message for mourners by pointing out that death is not an end, but a transition to a new chapter.

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An excerpt of this poem reads:

"What do you think has become of the young and old men?

And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death."

Find the full version of "A Child Said, What Is the Grass" here.

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