Poems on Death, Dying and Grief
Comfort on Loss of Loved One
Words To Read At Funeral Service
- Peace my heart…Rabindranath Tagore
- White Ashes…from Rennyo’s Letters
- Because I could not stop for Death…Emily Dickinson
- Holy Sonnets X…John Donne
- The dead they sleep…Samuel Hoffenstein
- The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 21
- When I Am Dead, My Dearest…Christina Rossetti
- A Parable of Immortality – Henry Van Dyke
- On Death – Kahlil Gibran
- If Death is Kind…Sara Teasdale
- When I die…Rumi
- When a man knows God…Svetasvatara Upanishad
- Attitude toward Death…Tecumseh
- Zen Death Poems
- All Return Again…Ralph Waldo Emerson
Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence.
I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way.
~ Rabindranath Tagore
translated by Hisao Inagaki et al
When I deeply contemplate the transient nature of human life, I realize that,
from beginning to end, life is impermanent like an illusion. We have not yet
heard of anyone who lived ten thousand years. How fleeting is a lifetime!
Who in this world today can maintain a human form for even a hundred years?
There is no knowing whether I will die first or others, whether death will occur
today or tomorrow. We depart one after another more quickly than the dewdrops on
the roots or the tips of the blades of grasses. So it is said. Hence, we may
have radiant faces in the morning, but by evening we may turn into white ashes.
Once the winds of impermanence have blown, our eyes are instantly closed and our
breath stops forever. Then, our radiant face changes its color, and the
attractive countenance like peach and plum blossoms is lost. Family and
relatives will gather and grieve, but all to no avail?
Since there is nothing else that can be done, they carry the deceased out to the
fields, and then what is left after the body has been cremated and has turned
into the midnight smoke is just white ashes. Words fail to describe the sadness
of it all.
Thus the ephemeral nature of human existence is such that death comes to young
and old alike without discrimination. So we should all quickly take to heart the
matter of the greatest importance of the afterlife, entrust ourselves deeply to
Amida Buddha, and recite the nembutsu.
Humbly and respectfully.
BECAUSE I could not stop for Death–
He kindly stopped for me–
The Carriage held but just Ourselves–
We slowly drove–He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labour and my leisure too,
For His Civility–
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess–in the Ring–
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain–
We passed the Setting Sun–
Or rather–He passed Us–
The Dews drew quivering and chill–
For only Gossamer, my Gown–
My Tippet–only Tulle–
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground–
The Roof was scarcely visible–
The Cornice–in the Ground–
Since then–’tis Centuries–and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses Heads
Were toward Eternity–
~ Emily Dickinson
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
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.
~ John Donne
The dead they sleep a long, long sleep;
The dead they rest, and their rest is deep;
The dead have peace, but the living weep.
~ Samuel Hoffenstein
Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.
Translated by Edward FitzGerald
When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
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.
~ Christina Rossetti
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,
and I stand and watch until at last she hangs
like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says,
” There she goes! ”
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 just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the place of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment
when someone at my side says,
” There she goes! ”
there are other eyes watching her coming . . .
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout . . .
” Here she comes! ”
~ Henry Van Dyke
Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of death.
And he said:
You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heath of life? The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light. If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond; and like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring. Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honor. Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king? Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
From The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Walker & Company, Phoenix Press, 1923
Perhaps if death is kind, and there can be returning,
We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.
We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long gentle thunder of the sea,
Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
We shall be happy, for the dead are free.
~ Sara Teasdale
When I die
when my coffin
is being taken out
you must never think
i am missing this world
don’t shed any tears
don’t lament or
i’m not falling
into a monster’s abyss
when you see
my corpse is being carried
don’t cry for my leaving
i’m not leaving
i’m arriving at eternal love
when you leave me
in the grave
don’t say goodbye
remember a grave is
only a curtain
for the paradise behind
you’ll only see me
descending into a grave
now watch me rise
how can there be an end
when the sun sets or
the moon goes down
it looks like the end
it seems like a sunset
but in reality it is a dawn
when the grave locks you up
that is when your soul is freed
have you ever seen
a seed fallen to earth
not rise with a new life
why should you doubt the rise
of a seed named human
have you ever seen
a bucket lowered into a well
coming back empty
why lament for a soul
when it can come back
like Joseph from the well
when for the last time
you close your mouth
your words and soul
will belong to the world of
no place no time
~ RUMI, ghazal number 911,
translated May 18, 1992, by Nader Khalili.
“When a man knows God, he is free: his sorrows have an end,
and birth and death are no more. When in inner union he is
beyond the world of the body, then the third world, the world
of the Spirit, is found, where the power of the All is, and man
has all: for he is one with the ONE.”
From: Svetasvatara Upanishad
Live your life that the fear of death
can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about his religion.
Respect others in their views
and demand that they respect yours.
Love your life, perfect your life,
beautify all things in your life.
Seek to make your life long
and of service to your people.
Prepare a noble death song for the day
when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting
or passing a friend, or even a stranger, if in a lonely place.
Show respect to all people, but grovel to none.
When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light,
for your life, for your strength.
Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living.
If you see no reason to give thanks,
the fault lies in yourself.
Touch not the poisonous firewater that makes wise ones turn to fools
and robs the spirit of its vision.
When your time comes to die, be not like those
whose hearts are filled with fear of death,
so that when their time comes they weep and pray
for a little more time to live their lives over again
in a different way.
Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.
The Teaching of Tecumseh
When Ryonen was about to pass from this
world, she wrote another poem:
Sixty-six times have these eyes beheld the
changing scene of autumn.
I have said enough about moonlight,
Ask no more.
Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars
when no wind stirs.
At last I am leaving:
in rainless skies, a cool moon…
pure is my heart
I pass as all things do
dew on the grass.
On a journey, ill:
my dream goes wandering
over withered fields.
Since time began
the dead alone know peace.
Life is but melting snow.
It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not
die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.
Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals
and mournful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the
window, sound and well, in some new strange disguise. Jesus is not
dead; he is very well alive; nor John, nor Paul, nor Mahomet, nor
Aristotle; at times we believe we have seen them all, and could
easily tell the names under which they go.
Ralph Waldo Emerson