15 Beautiful Poems About Death That Speak Truth And Offer Comfort

It sounds counterintuitive to suggest rhyming verses as a source of comfort.

But we’ve found some beautiful poems about death, some rhyming and some not, that put the pain of losing someone into words that feel authentic and compassionate. 

There’s a reason many of us find comfort in certain song lyrics and types of music. 

Words and rhythm together (with or without rhyme) have more power than either one has on its own.

That’s the power behind these poems about loss of a loved one. 

What Do You Say When Someone Dies? 

Whether you’re speaking at a loved one’s funeral or looking for the right words to express your condolences in a card, a poem about dying may not be the first thing that comes to mind. 

But if you choose it well, a poem can say what you’re trying (and failing) to articulate on your own.

Those are the poems that stay with you. And they’re worth sharing. 

Whether you use a poem or not, you want to communicate one or more of the following; 

  • Your love of or admiration for the loved one who’s passed; 
  • Something you learned from this person that had a huge, positive impact;
  • An anecdote from this person’s life that sums up their best qualities. 

15 Beautiful Poems about Death 

Read carefully through each of these poems about death of a loved one to find those that reach into your soul and echo what you’re feeling.

Make a note of the poems that stand out for you.  

1 — “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night,” by Dylan Thomas

This poem gets the #1 spot because no one wants a loved one to surrender to death quietly. We don’t want them just to accept the end, as if we don’t still need them in our lives. 

woman holding a red flower dressed in black poems about death

If they die, we don’t hold that against them, but the prospect of anyone we love getting cozy with death makes us uneasy. We’d rather see life renewed — and death disappointed. 

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.

2 — “When Death Comes,” by Mary Oliver

In this poem, Oliver expresses what many of us feel when death draws near — to us or someone we love. Her words bring death and dying into the present moment. 

We don’t want death to come before we’ve lived.  
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood.
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

In doing so, they challenge us to think about what we’ll want to see when, faced with our own end, we look back at the choices we’ve made. 

3 — “If I Should Die,” by Emily Dickinson

Dickinson was a master at crafting verses that revealed more to those willing to feel it. Even quietly optimistic poems like this one carried more weight than is obvious from a first reading. 

We all want to lift up the people we love when we know we’re dying. We don’t want our death weighing them down, even if we fear what we’re about to face without them. 

If I should die,
And you should live,
And time should gurgle on,
And morn should beam,
And noon should burn,
As it has usual done;
If birds should build as early,
And bees as bustling go,—
One might depart at option
From enterprise below!
’T is sweet to know that stocks will stand
When we with daisies lie,
That commerce will continue,
And trades as briskly fly.
It makes the parting tranquil
And keeps the soul serene,
That gentlemen so sprightly
Conduct the pleasing scene!

4 — “Death Be Not Proud,” by John Donne

The spirit of defiance in this poem is similar to that of “Do Not Go Gentle…” but, in this case, the poet addresses death directly, taunting it as something much less powerful and impressive than its reputation would suggest. 

In a sense, he’s looking death in the eye and saying, “Bring it on. I could use a good nap,” trusting that what comes afterward will expose death as the paper tiger it is. 

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 overthrow
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 art 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.

5 — “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep,” by Mary Elizabeth Frye

We can see this poem etched on a gravestone to remind mourners that death doesn’t have the final word. So, while we still want to comfort those who are grieving, Frye wants to remind us there’s more to death than a body in the ground. 

She also invites us to see everyday miracles in a new light—and to mindfully enjoy them.  

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 glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
(Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!)

6 — “When I Die,” by Rumi 

Rumi writes to reassure loved ones that his death won’t be an end but a beginning. Knowing how natural it is to mourn the loss of someone you love, he reminds us that death, however final and violent it feels, should not be the cause of unmitigated grief. 

He encourages those who care for him to contemplate his joy on the other side of death.

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
feel sorry
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

7 — “Epitaph on a Friend,” by Robert Burns

Here’s another example of a poem well-suited to a gravestone—as well as to a heartfelt eulogy. Burns offers a simple, warm tribute to a beloved soul that “made the best of this” life, given the opportunities he had.

 woman who is crying poems about death

He recognized and extolled the man’s virtues in life and expressed the hope that others would remember them, too. 

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.

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8 — “For Grief,” by John O’Donohue

The poet writes as one who understands how long it can take to fully process the loss of someone beloved, especially when they played an essential role in your becoming.

And we love how he comes full circle, after his last tears are spent, to the hearth in the soul, where he can once again enjoy the company of his friend. 

All the time.
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.

9 — “Remember,” by Christina Rossetti

Rossetti wants her intended audience to remember her, but only if it doesn’t cause them pain. She would rather see a smile on the face of someone she loved because they’d forgotten her than sadness in the heart of someone still grieving her death. 

She simply asks that her loved ones remember her now and then and never torture themselves for sometimes forgetting. She wants them to live. 

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
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.

10 — “Separation,” by W. S. Merwin

With just three lines, Merwin expresses his grief in a way we can picture. The absence of their beloved runs through the heart of them, and everything they do carries the thread of that loss. Everything bears its imprint. 

The forced separation of the two hearts has left one permanently transfixed by the other. 

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

11 — “Death is Nothing at All,” by Henry Scott-Holland

Here’s another poet seeking to reassure a loved one left behind by reminding them the separation is only temporary. He asks them to smile and laugh as they usually did together—to act as if their happy reunion (and not his death) was foremost on their minds. 

He hopes to impress upon them how little power death has over their future together.

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

12 — “Your Body is Away from Me,” by Rumi

Rumi invites the reader to trust that, even when they’ve lost a loved one, they may still send the latter news and thoughtful messages through a window between their souls.

So, while the body is no longer present, thoughts and words of love, traveling through that secret window, keep the two hearts connected. 

Your body is away from me
but there is a window open
from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.

13 — “Time Does Not Bring Relief,” by  Edna St. Vincent Milay

The poet doesn’t mince words when expressing a sentiment most people who’ve lost loved ones would agree with: time does not heal all wounds. Almost everything and every place remind her of the one she lost.

Even when she happens on a place where he’d never been, the mere recognition of that fact brings waves of renewed grief and paralyzing loneliness. 

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied 
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;  
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,  
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;  
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.   
There are a hundred places where I fear  
To go,—so with his memory they brim.  
And entering with relief some quiet place  
Where never fell his foot or shone his face  
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”  
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

14. — “Poem for a Dead Kitten,” by Sara Henderson Hay

This tender and heartbreaking poem reveals the pain of losing a pet who was so full of life and is now gone forever.

The kitten was so new to life, and yet death claimed it without regard for its playfulness and youth. The poet wonders how such a small animal can be lost to something as permanent and profound as death.

Put the rubber mouse away,
Pick the spools up from the floor,
What was velvet shod, and gay,
Will not want them, any more.
What was warm, is strangely cold.
Whence dissolved the little breath?
How could this small body hold
So immense a thing as Death?

15. — “To a Dead Friend,” by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes paints a picture of the pain of losing a dear friend with descriptive and blunt language. A “purple blackness,” symbolizing the darkness of death, has descended on him, as nothing will ever be the same after his loss.

All of the joy has been erased from his life even as life continues all around him. 

The moon still sends its mellow light
Through the purple blackness of the night;
The morning star is palely bright
                    Before the dawn. 
The sun still shines just as before;
The rose still grows beside my door,
                    But you have gone. 
The sky is blue and the robin sings;
The butterflies dance on rainbow wings
                  Though I am sad. 
In all the earth no joy can be;
Happiness comes no more to me,
                  For you are dead. 

What is a Good Poem to Read at a Funeral? 

Some poems are better suited to funerals than others. No one wants to hear a poem chosen more for its performative potential than for its resonance. 

This is not the time or place for interpretive dance with an abstruse poetic narrative. You’re not there to perform; you’re there to offer comfort.

That said, some performances — like playing a tune that was a favorite of the deceased — can do what words cannot. 

Consider the following general rules when choosing a poem to read at a funeral:

  • Go with one takes only a few minutes (at the most) to read; 
  • Read the room (or the guest list) and choose a poem you think they’d appreciate;
  • Choose one you think the deceased would have enjoyed. 

Now that you’ve read through all of these goodbye poems about death, which ones stood out for you? Which would you want someone to read at your funeral?

Or which seems best fitted to a memorial for someone you love? What makes it fit so well?