Non-religious funeral readings
Finding the words to say goodbye to a loved one when they pass away can be difficult. With non-religious and Humanist funerals becoming more and more popular, many people turn to the internet and books to find the perfect non-religious reading.
If you’re arranging a funeral for someone who didn’t have any religious beliefs, you may want to include a popular funeral poem or reading in the order of service. Non-religious funeral readings and poems can help acknowledge the passing of a loved one and bring comfort to those in attendance.
Here are some popular readings and poems for a non-religious funeral:
“When I Am Dead, My Dearest” by Christina Rossetti
This poem lists some of the things that people do as part of a traditional funeral, such as placing flowers at a grave site, writing sad songs, and planting trees, and asks that these grieving rituals are not observed. The suggestion is that grief is a very personal thing, which should be observed in a personal way.
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.
“The Life That I Have” by Leo Marks
Originally written by Marks when he learned of the death of his girlfriend, this poem is a heartfelt choice which speaks of eternal love, making it a popular funeral reading for the loss of a loved one.
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.
“Death (If I Should Go)” by Joyce Grenfell
Grenfell wrote a number of poems which tackled death and loss. This positive and uplifting poem is one of the most well known and is often read at funerals.
If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is Hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.
“Roads Go Ever On” by J. R. R. Tolkien
The following passage is taken from “The Lord of the Rings”. It makes an ideal reading for a funeral, because Bilbo gracefully acknowledges that his journey is complete and gives others a blessing for "a journey new.
Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.
Roads go ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.
“Death Sets a Thing Significant” by Emily Dickinson
This poem focuses on how loss can make us sentimental. Dickinson says, after a death, the things left behind are often cherished by loved ones, no matter how insignificant they seemed before they died.
Death sets a thing significant
The eye had hurried by,
Except a perished creature
Entreat us tenderly
To ponder little workmanships
In crayon or in wool,
With "This was last her fingers did,"
The thimble weighed too heavy,
The stitches stopped themselves,
And then 't was put among the dust
Upon the closet shelves.
A book I have, a friend gave,
Whose pencil, here and there,
Had notched the place that pleased him,--
At rest his fingers are.
Now, when I read, I read not,
For interrupting tears
Obliterate the etchings
Too costly for repairs.
“Play Jolly Music At My Funeral” by Richard Greene
As the name suggests, this poem would be an ideal funeral reading for someone who had a sense of humour. The poem urges the funeral goers to dispense with traditional funeral verses and enjoy some music. Consider coupling this poem with some fitting funeral music.
I’ve taken in recent years to thinking about my funeral
and have decided to make one paramount request:
play jolly music at that ritual.
What good does it do to heap on dirges
or other mournful melodies?
I won’t be there to be gratified by the grieving
and if I could tune in
I’d be happier to see those present have some relief.
Dixieland would be nice.
Joplin would be fine.
Something by Fats Waller would certainly do.
Those early jazzmen knew what they were up to
when they set about making funeral marches swing.
So swing me away, please, with a rousing tune.
“Dear Lovely Death” by Langston Hughes
This poem is a popular choice for a non-religious funeral reading for a child or young person. Rather than focussing on the finality of death, it suggests that death merely changes things. The poem can offer comfort during a difficult time and could be a good choice for a humanist funeral.
Dear lovely Death
That taketh all things under wing—
Never to kill—
Only to change
Into some other thing
This suffering flesh,
To make it either more or less,
But not again the same—
Dear lovely Death,
Change is thy other name.
“Requiem” by Robert Louis Stevenson
Despite being written fourteen years before his death, this poem is inscribed on the author’s gravestone. Robert Louis Stevenson was a famous atheist, making the poem a popular choice of non-religious funeral reading.
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me die.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
“Farewell, Sweet Dust” by Elinor Wylie
Now I have lost you, I must scatter
All of you on the air henceforth;
Not that to me it can ever matter
Buy it's only fair to the rest of the earth.
Now especially, when it is winter
And the sun's not half so bright as he was,
Who wouldn't be glad to find a splinter
That once was you in the frozen grass?
Snowflakes, too, will be softer feathered,
Clouds, perhaps, will be whiter plumed;
Rain, whose brilliance you caught and gathered,
Purer silver have reassumed.
Farewell, sweet dust; I never was a miser:
Once, for a minute, I made you mine:
Now you are gone, I am none the wiser
But the leaves of the willow are as bright as wine.
“Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye
A powerful funeral poem for those dealing with grief. The poem focuses on the belief that our loved ones are all around us, with no religious messaging or undertones.
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 glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
“Intimations of Immortality” by William Wordsworth
This funeral poem sets out to remind mourners that death does not have to be the end.
What though the radiance which was once so bright~
Be now forever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.
“Funeral Blues” by W. H. Auden
This popular funeral poem appeared in the film “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” The poem is non-religious, focusing instead on the main themes of grief, love, death, mourning and the mundanity of life now that this person is gone.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let airplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message "He is Dead",
Put Crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday-rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk , my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood,
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
“She Is Gone” by David Harkins
Often considered an ideal non-religious funeral poem for mum, this reading focuses on a sense of gratitude for all that your loved one has left behind. Can be edited to read “He is gone” to create a funeral poem for Dad or a male loved-one.
You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
“No Matter What” by Debi Gliori
No Matter What is a children’s story book which teaches children about love and loss. It would make a lovely reading for the funeral of a mum or dad who has left young children behind.
Small said: “But what about when you’re dead and gone? Would you love me then? Does love go on?”
Large held Small snug as they looked out at the night, at the moon in the dark and the stars shining bright.
“Small, look at the stars – how they shine and glow. Yet some of those stars died a long time ago. Still they shine in the evening skies… love, like starlight, never dies”.