16 Candle Lighting Poems for Celebrations or Memorials


There are times in our lives when we need to come together. Sometimes that means during times of grief and sadness. And sometimes it can be for joy and celebration. Candlelight ceremonies are perfect for either of these circumstances, as they are simple to plan and execute. But they still add an air of importance to a given occasion. 

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It’s common to hear someone give a brief speech at a candlelight ceremony. Or deliver a reading of a poem. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite poems to read at a candlelight ceremony, for a variety of occasions.  

Candle Lighting Poems for a Memorial or Funeral

When someone dies, the people who love them often feel very alone. Sometimes grieving together can bring a sense of comfort and community. A candlelight vigil is ideal for this. They are often less formal and rigidly scheduled than a funeral or memorial service, so they can be lower pressure for people who are mourning. They can also help bring a group of close friends together in their own space to grieve a friend.

Candlelight vigils are also often held when someone is well-known in the community. That way, even if people can’t all attend an official funeral, they can still gather together to celebrate someone’s life. No matter the circumstances, any of these poems can add emotional heft to a candlelight vigil. 

1. "If I Should Die Before the Rest of You” by Joyce Grenfell

Sometimes people opt to have candlelight ceremonies in lieu of funerals or memorial services. This might happen if the deceased was clear that they preferred people to remember them happily and not mire themselves in grief. This uplifting poem urges people to think of their lost loved ones with enough joy to temper the sadness.  

2. "Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep” by Mary Frye 

This is perhaps one of the most well-known and beloved funeral poems of all time. Like the poem above, it has a message of goodwill and hope. The deceased is reminding their loved ones that she lives on in spirit. She can be found nearby as long as her loved ones remember her. 

Most candlelight ceremonies are not held at graveside, so the message of this poem is right on point.  

3. "Turn Again to Life” by Mary Lee Hall 

This is another poem told from the perspective of someone who has passed away. It acknowledges the pain that people feel when a loved one dies. But in lines like “For my sake turn again to life and smile,” it also gently urges people to also look for happiness. 

4. "As We Look Back” by Anonymous 

Candlelight vigils are often held to honor people who made a big impact on their community. This could include political leaders, philanthropists, or teachers. With this poem, people can show their gratitude for someone who had a positive impact on so many lives. 

5. "Holy Sonnet X” by John Donne 

Sometimes people hold candlelight vigils to celebrate the life of someone who died for a cause. At vigils like these, people want to deliver a stirring and rousing reading. This poem is beautiful, yet also defiant. With lines like “And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die,” it strikes an appropriately fiery turn.  

6. "All is Well” by Henry Scott Holland 

Sometimes, when people die, it can be hard to speak about them. It brings with it fresh waves of grief. This poem reminds us that we can once again take comfort in speaking of our loved ones. One day, our memories of them will be less bitter and more sweet.  

7. "We Let You Go” by Ruth Burgess 

Burgess is the author of a book called Candles and Conifers. It is a collection of seasonal prayers, poems, and reflections. Many of the readings enclosed would fit well at a candlelight vigil. This one, with lines like “Into the freedom of wind and sunshine/We let you go” is truly lovely. 

8. "Happy Heavenly Birthday” by Jodi M. Kucera 

Candlelight ceremonies aren’t always held immediately after someone dies. They can also be held on momentous occasions like the anniversary of someone’s death or on the deceased’s birthday. This poem celebrates the birthday of someone who is no longer here to celebrate with us. It’s the perfect way of honoring a deceased loved one on their birthday

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

Candle Lighting Poems for a Birthday or Celebration

We’ve talked about solemn poems to celebrate someone’s life after they have passed away. But you don’t have to wait until someone has passed away to honor them. Birthdays already feature a version of a candlelight ceremony. Lighting candles on a birthday cake and singing a song is akin to a candlelight ceremony. 

Quinceañeras may also feature a candle-lighting ceremony. Several sororities hold candlelight ceremonies when a member gets engaged. There are many occasions that can be enhanced by an uplifting candlelight ceremony. 

9. "Won’t You Celebrate With Me” by Lucille Clifton 

Sometimes we have to endure unimaginable hardships in life. It can feel like a struggle just to survive everything that life throws at us. When we have come out of the other side of a period of challenges, that is something worth celebrating. 

This poem is one that honors someone who has been forged in fire and comes out of it even stronger. 

10. "Freedom” by Amy Bonner 

We all feel trapped in our lives sometimes. You may have an unhappy family life. You might be mired in a bad relationship. You may feel stuck in a tedious job. But we can always change our circumstances. 

If you have managed to break free from bad circumstances, you should celebrate your freedom. This poem can help you kick off your new and exciting journey, whatever it might be. 

11. "To Be Held” by Linda Hogan 

As mentioned earlier, there are many circumstances that inspire a candlelight celebration. One such occasion is rejoicing over being healed. If you have fought any kind of illness, whether mental or physical, this poem offers words of celebration. It could also be an appropriate tribute to someone in recovery. When you work hard to heal, it’s an occasion worth celebrating. 

12. "Birthday” by Thomas Clark

This evocative poem is set in the springtime. It paints evocative images of crocuses and saffron blooming in the spring rain. It’s a lovely poem for a birthday celebration. But it would also fit in with any kind of celebration of a new opportunity. 

13. "Happiness” by Paisley Rekdal 

Whenever we celebrate a happy occasion, it’s made even sweeter when we remember how far we’ve come. This poem shows someone who is taking pride in their personal journey while honoring the less happy things that have come before. It also includes other people in the celebration. 

14. "44th Birthday Evening, at Harris’s” by Ted Berrigan 

On birthdays, we often get together to celebrate a loved one as we get one year older. But as we grow older, we start to care less about what people do for us. Instead, we can turn introspective and reflective. This is a poem that celebrates the friends of the person having a birthday. It would be great for a birthday party that seeks to include everyone in the celebration. 

15. "Birthday in Autumn” by Alice Friman

This poem is more than just a birthday poem. It doesn’t just celebrate a person’s life. Instead, it celebrates life in general, as well as the harvest of food that sustains us. It is rich in gorgeous, lush imagery. It is very much a poem of celebration. 

16. "Happiness” by Susan Griffin 

Often, happiness is simply a matter of changing our perception. You don’t have to have a particular occasion in order to celebrate. If you just wake up one day and are happy, that’s reason enough for celebration. This poem perfectly exemplifies this attitude. 

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

Read These Poems at a Candlelight Ceremony

When milestone events happen in life, it’s important to honor them appropriately. When good things happen, you should celebrate them. And when someone important to you dies, you should honor them. 

Candlelight ceremonies are a wonderful way to commemorate an important life event, whether it’s happy or sad. They enable people to come together as a community and lift each other up. And the right poem can be the perfect touch for your candlelight ceremony. 

If you're looking for more ways to celebrate life's important events, read our guides on how to plan a living funeral and the best funeral poetry.

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