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Grief and Death Poetry

words to grieve and celebrate with



It can be difficult to find poetry that approaches Death and Dying in a positive way.
We hope that this sampling of poems are of some help.
Please contact us (click here) if you have any further poems to suggest.

Teach Me To Die
Teach me to die
Hold on to my hand
I have so many questions
Things I don’t understand.
Teach me to die
Give all you can give
If you teach me of dying
I’ll teach you to live
Deanna Edwards

Help us to be the always hopeful
Gardeners of the spirit
Who know that without darkness
Nothing comes to birth
As without light
Nothing flowers.
by May Sarton
from A Passage from Invocation to Kali

.... One leaf atop another
yet under the next,
a vibrant tapestry of arcs and falls
all in the act of becoming.

Death is the passing of life.
And life
is the stringing together of so many little passings.
Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And to know that place for the first time.
From T.S. Elliot


The wind is a song
that harbours through the winter.
The sail is a door
that bids the song to enter.
Let us sail the sea, good friends,
and let us sing together.
The singer lasts a season long,
while our song, it lasts forever.


Open Sea
When my doing is over
Find me on the open sea...
Letting my being expand

Letting my mind sleep...
I'll be in every drop of water
feeding off the sun...
by Lanxin Curto

Song fills up the soul.
Soul opens the heart.
Heart welcomes the light.
Cherish the night with song.

If you cannot sing like angels,
If you cannot speak before thousands,
You can give from deep within you.
You are like no other being.
What you give,
No other can give.


To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost over throw
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure – then, from thee much more must flow;
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones and soul’s delivery.
Thou’rt slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke. Why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more. Death thou shalt die.

(John Donne)

When you were born, you cried,
and the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die,
the world cries,
and you rejoice.

(Traditional Navajo)

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Shall be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
(Susan Griffin)

Earth teaches me regeneration
As the seed which rises in the spring….
Earth teaches me to remember with kindness
As dry fields weep with rain.
(Nancy Wood)

…. There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open
to the place inside which is unbreakable
and whole,
while learning to sing.

Please call me by my true names,
So that I can wake up.
And so the door of my heart can be left open,
The door of compassions.

(Chief Seattle)

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Who, herself unmoving, harbours the movements
And facilitates the life of the ten thousand creatures
While resting contented, stable, tranquil.
Deep peace of the quest earth to you!
(Mary Rogers, adapted from the Gaelic &
probably the source of various versions of the chant "Deep Peace")

Again, again we come and go,
changed, changing. Hands
join, unjoin in love and fear,
grief and joy. The circles turn,
each giving into each, into all.
(Wendall Berry)

…Sun and moon, I smile at you both
And spread my arms in affection
And lay myself down at full length
For the earth to know I love it too
And am never to be separated from it.
In no way shall death part us.
(David Ignatow)

I am there
Look for me when the tide is high
And the gulls are wheeling overhead
When the autumn wind sweeps the cloudy sky
And one by one the leaves are shed
Look for me when the trees are bare
And the stars are bright in the frosty sky
When the morning mist hangs on the air
And shorter darker days pass by…….

I am the love you cannot see
And all I ask is - look for me.

(Iris Hesselden)

To learn how to die cut down a tree,
Watch how so many years fall.
You don't need to have planted it
for it to be your life…….
Count the rings and stand on the stump
and stretch your arms to the sky.
Think only because it was cut down could you do this.
You are standing where no one has stood
But the dark inside a life
That many years.


There are two ways to live your life -
one is as though nothing is a miracle;
the other is as though everything is a miracle.
(Albert Einstein)

Relax into the Darkness
Let if fill your soul.
And loosen all your Separateness
Return unto the Whole.

The One becomes the Many
Then They return to One.
The Light, It brings the Journey:
The Darkness takes us Home.

And may you come again, friend
And may you come again - by spirit -
And may you come again, friend

And Blessed Be those who come Home.

(Pashta MaryMoon - song written for the Dying)

There is a brokenness out of which comes the unbroken,
a shatteredness out of which blooms the unshatterable.
There is a sorrow beyond all grief which leads to joy and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.
There is a hollow space
too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness we are sanctioned into being.
There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open
to the place inside which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing.

"I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning 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 and 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
at my side says, "There, she is gone!"
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad
"Here she comes!"
And that is dying."
(Henry Van Dyke)

Arrayed in some new fleshly disguise,
Another mother gives birth.
With sturdier limbs and brighter brain,
The old soul takes the road again.
(unknown from Pagan Library)

A Prayer for the Dying
Time has passed, the Wheel has turned.
It is time for me to move on.
I will walk hand in hand with the Ancient Ones,
and with my ancestors who came before me.

Great Mother, welcome me back into your womb,
I come to you and know I am blessed,
for my life has been one I am proud of.
As I enter your world, wrap me in your loving arms,

Lord of Death, I wait for you to take me,
I come to you willingly, with eyes wide open,
as my last moment approaches on the horizon.
May I look upon you without fear, without pain,
and knowing that those who walked before me,
await me on the other side.

O Ancient Ones, give me strength to take these final steps,
and allow me to do so with peace and dignity.
Let my family mourn my passing but not my loss,
and let them heal knowing I will see them again.
Time has passed and the Wheel has turned.
It is time for me to move on.

(unknown from Wiccan/PaganAbout)

When I come to the end of the road
When I come to the end of the road,
And the sun has set for me,
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little – but not for long.
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that once we shared.
Miss me, but let me go.
For this is a journey we must all take,
And each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan,
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick at heart,
Go to the friends we know,
Laugh at all the things we used to do.
Miss me, but let me go.

(Anonymous thanks to Kath Murray for posting on

We Remember Them
In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
We remember them;
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
We remember them;
In the opening of the buds and in the warmth of summer,
We remember them;
In the rustling of leaves and the beauty of autumn,
We remember them;
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
We remember them;
When we are weary and in need of strength,
We remember them;
When we are lost and sick at heart,
We remember them;
When we have joys we yearn to share,
We remember them;
So long as we live, they too shall live,
for they are now a part of us as
(From "Gates of Prayer" Reform Judaism Prayerbook thanks to the Bereaved Families of Kingston newsletter)

Go on mama / we don't get out of here alive
For we don't get out of here alive
we, don't get out of here alive
we don't get out of here alive
it's so much brighter and lighter,
On the other side

Go on mama, I'll be okay
I've learned from the best - how to be brave
You taught me well and did the best you could
I hope that I can be half as good

Go on mama, Go find the light
I take comfort knowing, I'm not that far behind
Your second son, is waiting for you
His hands outstretched to guide you through


Go on mama, go on and make you're move
I'm strong enough now, to burry you
The heavens gates, and the arms of saints (HARMONIES)
Open wide as smiles to welcome you (HARMONIES)

For we don't get out of here alive
we, don't get out of here alive
we don't get out of here alive
it's so much brighter and lighter, (brighter, lighter, brighter)
For we don't get out of here alive
we, don't get out of here alive
we don't get out of here alive
it's so much brighter and lighter,
On the other side

(by Farideh, found at

Life While-You-Wait
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.
I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it's mine. I can't exchange it.
I have to guess on the spot
just what this play's all about.
Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,

I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can't conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.

Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.
Words and impulses you can't take back,
stars you'll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run -
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.
If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven't seen.

Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn't even clear my throat offstage).
You'd be wrong to think that it's just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I'm standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there's no question, this must be the premiere.

And whatever I do
will become forever what I've done.

(by Barancsak, Stanislaw (poet) and Cavanagh, Clare (translator) from "Map: Collected and Last Poems")

Death Positive
The metanarrative that we've been fed
Is that it's always bad when someone's dead
That death is public enemy number one
And that there's nothing good when life is done.

It's true that death hurts me and you
And it's true that death can be tragic too
It's true that grief will never leave
And it's never good to be bereaved.

But the idea that death is all bad is a lie
It's hard to see but let me help you try;
When your eyes adjust at night you can find
That this is the time for the stars to shine.

We're used to the day so it's hard to see
But death's darkness has its own kind of beauty
It's not glamorous and it's certainly not glorious
But caring for our dead is never ever worthless.

For in the dead we see our future and our past
We see very clearly that some things don't last
It helps us remember what's valuable and real
It helps us remember that love is our ideal.

Death is the friendly reminder that life is short
And it reminds us to only pursue things of import
And when our eyes see our own setting sun
If we lived with death in mind, we'll hear "well done".

(unknown from Caleb Wilde's "Confessions of a Funeral Director")

Caelica 83: You that seek what life is in death
You that seek what life is in death,
Now find it air that once was breath.
New names unknown, old names gone:
Till time end bodies, but souls none.
Reader! then make time, while you be,
But steps to your eternity.

(By Baron Brooke Fulke Greville)

Sleeping in the Forest
I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.
from Sleeping In The Forest by Mary Oliver

The Almanac of Last Things
From the almanac of last things
I choose the spider lily
for the grace of its brief
blossom, though I myself
fear brevity,

but I choose The Song of Songs
because the flesh
of those pomegranates
has survived
all the frost of dogma.

I choose January with its chill
lessons of patience and despair--and
August, too sun-struck for lessons.
I choose a thimbleful of red wine
to make my heart race,

then another to help me
sleep. From the almanac
of last things I choose you,
as I have done before.
And I choose evening

because the light clinging
to the window
is at its most reflective
just as it is ready
to go out.
by Linda Pastan ?

“Death must be so beautiful.
To lie in the soft brown earth,
with the grasses waving above one's head,
and listen to silence.
To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow.
To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.”
Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost

As every blossom fades
and all youth sinks
into old age,
so every life's design,
each flower of wisdom,
every good attains its prime
and cannot last forever.
In life, each call the heart
must be prepared courageously
without a hint of grief,
submit itself to other new ties.
A magic dwells in each beginning,
protecting us
tells us how to live.

High purposed we must traverse
realm on realm,
cleaving to none as to a home,
the world of spirit
wishes not to fetter us
but raise us higher,
step by step.
Scarce in some safe
accustomed sphere of life
have we establish a house,
then we grow lax;
only he who is ready
to journey forth
can throw old habits off.
Maybe death's hour too
will send us out new-born
towards undreamed-lands,
maybe life's call to us
will never find an end.
Courage my heart,
take leave and fare thee well.
Steps by Herman Hesse

Mojuba (Yoruba) - In My Time
In my time, I will hear the calling of
Ancestral voices 'Cross the river of death.
And in my time, I will cross the final bridge
And stand before The elders of my tribe.

I will sing, and I will dance
In memory of all those who went before.
And I will sing, and I will dance
In honour of all those who've yet to come.
(English words by Pashta MaryMoon)

If I can let you go as trees let go
Their leaves, so casually, one by one;
If I can come to know what they do know,
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(For love itself may need a time of sleep),
And, treelike, stand unmoved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep.
The strong root still alive under the snow,
Love will endure — if I can let you go.
(“Sonnet 2” from The Autumn Sonnets May Sarton

Singing To Dorothy
Turquoise sunlight rippling through the stained glass
Onto a coverlet
Bumped with tiny canine bodies wrapped around her legs —
Always a safe place to curl up and hide, she was.

Suddenly awakening — startled
“This keeps happening” she firmly states with obvious reluctance,
Back to the world of living too many times:
Hand held tight, though I know she wants to let go.

Belly peaking, almost as if she was in labour
Contractions of air grasped, seeking a way in —
A tribute to all of the struggles throughout her life?
Seems unfair to labour just to breathe through the last days.

Try as I might, I can’t sing as slowly as she breathes.
But I can chant a doppled mirage of colours
Pouring and pooling around her with each out-breath.
Each stranded hue — someone she loved and who loved her,
A strength that she harboured in her wide arms,
A blessing given, known and unknown.
A slow walk of shades to the threshold:
A mantra of angels through the final doorway.
(Pashta MaryMoon May 2, 2015

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you gets fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence.
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.

There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And, when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.
(For Grief” by John O’Donohue)

"Songs of Courage"

Life is rich and barren
Days, bleak and full of joy
The paradox of living
Is not lost on me.

Grief is a state of being

Each path unique,

Where is self inside grief?
Utterly changed
Old molds shattered
Patterns microscopic
Where Us was
I exists.

I wait to feel the green
Knowing the ground is me.

For the gardener to arise.

I am the gardener.
(Submitted by Lynn Chapman, Bridge C-14 Community Member)

When I die
Give what’s left of me away
To children
And old men that wait to die.

And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give to them
What you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something,
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me
In the people I’ve known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live in your eyes
And not on your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands
By letting
Bodies touch bodies
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn’t die,
People do.
So, when all that’s left of me
Is love,
Give me away”
((Merrit Malloy)


Also see a wide range of pan-death poetry at The Inspired Funeral and on the World Prayer Website (search word 'death')

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