Funeral Poems, Readings, Music, Quotations & Thoughts

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!

It isn’t always easy to find the words at a funeral, but the right words mean a lot to a family. We used these words as a short reading for a man who would never have said he wanted poetry at his funeral, and they spoke of happy memories, times spent with his friends and trips to Twickenham with his sons. And of course it is a beautiful song about [...] Read more

Mother

Edgar Guest wrote some 11,000 poems in his life, published in newspapers and books and heard on his radio shows. He was a popular poet, never a literary one, much loved in America where he lived and in England where he was born. Some people find his writing sentimental but I love the plain language and the memorability of his verses. He voices [...] Read more

Time (for Katrina's Sundial)

A lovely short reading by the American writer Henry Van Dyke. People may remember that it was read at the funeral of Princess Diana by her sister. Van Dyke visited England at the turn of the century and later published a short account of a day's journey from Watchet to Bridgwater by horse and trap, admiring the Quantocks and the coastal villages [...] Read more

Aisholt in the Thankful Villages

A short video for Darren Hayman's Thankful Villages project featuring me reading a poem by Dollie Radford titled In the Quantock Hills. A Thankful Village is a settlement where every soldier returned alive from the Great War. Aisholt in Darren Hayman's Thankful Villages

Dust if You Must

Really enjoyed this funny poem about life, death and housework. Home Truths I think. Dust if you must, but it might be better, to paint a picture or write a letter, to bake a cake or plant a seed, to ponder the gap between want and need. Dust if you must, but theres not much time, with rivers to swim and mountains to climb, music to hear and books [...] Read more

Three Silent Things

Not silent things but three of the strange and beautiful 'cinquains' written by Adelaide Crapsey before her death from tuberculosis in 1914 aged 36. Each short abstract poem is of five lines, growing in length and falling back on the fifth line like an exhalation. The picture shows her in her patient's gown in the sanatorium at Saranac Lake, New [...] Read more

Stop All the Clocks

Everybody knows the beautiful poem 'Funeral Blues' by W H Auden used in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Nobody can read it as well as John Hannah did, but here it is recorded as a song by Nemo Shaw.

Her laughter was better than birds in the morning

A short poem by the former poet laureate Cecil Day Lewis. I have heard it used for a man with 'her' read as 'his' and 'she' as 'he'. Her laughter was better than birds in the morning, Her smile turned the edge of the wind, Her memory disarms death and charms the surly grave. Early she went to bed, too early we Saw her light put out; yet we could [...] Read more

Ashes in the Wild West Wind

I recently heard the last cantos of Shelley's Ode to the West Wind used at a funeral. How wonderful the lines were with their references to death, rebirth and the scattering of words and ashes in the wind, and how perfect for cremation or for a ceremony with ashes. O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being, * * * Drive my dead thoughts over [...] Read more

Christina Rossetti ~ Sleeping At Last

Sleeping at Last Sleeping at last, the trouble and tumult over, Sleeping at last, the struggle and horror past, Cold and white, out of sight of friend and of lover, Sleeping at last. No more a tired heart downcast or overcast, No more pangs that wring or shifting fears that hover, Sleeping at last in a dreamless sleep locked fast. Fast asleep. [...] Read more

Robert Burns' Epitaph for a Friend

A lovely epitaph in plain language, forthright and unpretentious. An honest man here lies at rest, The friend of man, the friend of truth, The friend of age, and guide of youth: Few hearts like his, with virtue warm'd, Few heads with knowledge so inform'd; If there's another world, he lives in bliss; If there is none, he made the best of this.

All Things Pass ~ Lao Tzu

Ancient words are always comforting. They remind us that loss and grief has always been part of life, part of the human condition. In the sixth century BC the great Chinese philosopher and father of Taoism had this to say: A sunrise does not last all morning All things pass A cloudburst does not last all day All things pass Nor a sunset all night [...] Read more

Noel Coward's last Poem

Noel Coward stayed in Jamaica with Ian Fleming in the 1940s and enjoyed his time there so much that he first bought a home there and then built himself a new house called Firefly overlooking the sea on the North Coast. For many years he spent the winter months in Jamaica and then stayed most of the year round as he got older. He loved the climate [...] Read more

I Wish You Were Here, Dear

Joseph Brodsky was put on trial in his native Russia for 'Social Parasitism' in the 1970s and imprisoned and sent to Siberia for hard labour for his conviction that he had a calling as a poet. He finally fled to the West and was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987. Here he reads a late poem, written in English. A Song I wish you were [...] Read more

Walk On

This blog missed National Poetry Day, but I think it might have been on that day that something half heard on the radio stuck in my mind. Someone was reading what he described as a popular poem which went like this: When you walk through a storm Hold your head up high And don't be afraid of the dark. At the end of the storm Is a golden sky And the [...] Read more

Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now

There has been talk in the media about how schoolchildren used to be made to learn poetry by heart. I know I was one of them and it seems I am not the only one who finds that some of those poems have stayed with me all my life. Here for instance is a poem from A E Housman's 'A Shropshire Lad', much loved and much recited. LOVELIEST of trees, the [...] Read more

Hail and Farewell!

There is something very comforting about traditional language and using historical readings. It reminds us that some things remain the same as they always have been. Here the Roman poet Catullus writes a short poem about the death of his brother and his journey to pay his respects at the graveside. We feel his strong sense of the inadequacy and [...] Read more

XVIII If Grief Could Burn Out

A short poem by Philip Larkin first published in The North Ship in 1945 with no title but the number XVIII If grief could burn out Like a sunken coal The heart would rest quiet The unrent soul Be as still as a veil But I have watched all night The fire grow silent The grey ash soft And I stir the stubborn flint The flames have left And the bereft [...] Read more

Days of Wine & Roses

The phrase is well known, the poem not so much; in fact I have never seen it in any of the collections of funeral readings. The English poet Ernest Dowson died in 1900 at 32 years old. He was no stranger to loss and mourning. He leaves us this beautiful short piece: They are not long, the weeping and the laughter, Love and desire and hate; I think [...] Read more