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Choosing Funeral Verses, Readings and Poems

Category: Planning A Funeral

Our lives are made up of greetings and goodbyes. When it comes to saying goodbye to someone we love deeply, finding the right words to mark the occasion can be extremely difficult. After all, how can we encapsulate what our loved one meant to us in only a few words?

When we are choosing funeral readings or funeral poems, we have to face the heart-rending search for written words, religious or non-religious, which best sum up the qualities, values, foibles, uniqueness and essence of the loved one we have lost.

It is often the case that those invited to a funeral are a very diverse group of people. It can therefore be challenging to find a funeral reading or funeral words which strike a sensitive balance of being affectionate, uplifting, original, respectful and appropriate for the occasion.

Before choosing a funeral reading or poem, it useful to ask yourself a few questions;
Answering these questions and more will help you to focus on exactly what kind of reading would be most appropriate.

  • Is the passage, poem, or reading a favourite of the deceased?
  • Does the reading trigger strong and distinct memories of the deceased?
  • Do you want the reading to illustrate a point about the deceased personality or philosophy of life (and the coming of death) in general?
  • What would the deceased think about the reading?
  • Is the reading intended to offer comfort to the mourners?
  • How long do you want the reading to last?

Religious readings

While you have a great deal of flexibility in deciding what readings to choose, some denominations have preferred selections. Your clergy and funeral director can also help you narrow down your choices. Psalms are among the most popular religious readings. Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd,…”), for example, is often used as a funeral reading, as are the following;

  • John 14:27
  • Isaiah 41:10
  • Psalm 46: 1-10

Secular Readings

When it comes to secular funeral readings you can turn to books, essays, speeches, and other sources. As long as the content is appropriate and pays homage to the person you are remembering, there are no strict rules. Below are a few well-known examples of secular funeral readings (all poems). They may serve as inspiration;
You may wish to use an essay or passage from a larger work to honour the departed in your funeral reading. For example;
It has become increasingly popular for those who have lost loved ones to play a song chosen by the deceased or even to read out the lyrics of a song as if it were a poem. Some popular examples are;

  • Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night - Dylan Thomas
  • Let Me Go - Christina Rossetti
  • Footprints on the Sand of Time - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Funeral Blues - W H Auden
  • Eulogy from a physicist - Aaron Freeman (for a scientist or science enthusiast)
  • Bilbo’s Last Song (At the Grey Havens) - J.R.R.Tolkien (for a lover of fantasy worlds)
  • A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Heaven - Larry Bradfield (for a humourist)
  • Unforgettable (Nat King Cole)
  • My Way (Frank Sinatra)
  • Bring Me Sunshine (Morecambe and Wise)
  • Stand by Me (Ben E King)

We are saying goodbye

A well-chosen line of poetry can also act as a way of setting the final seal on a funeral. For example, “Maybe death isn’t darkness after all but so much light wrapping itself around us” (from a poem by Mary Oliver) It is a very sensitive and uplifting way of summing up the end of a life and may help you to round off your funeral speech or eulogy in a memorable and positive way.