Most funeral poems tend to focus on feelings of sadness that are associated with grief. You may think of W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” or “I measure every Grief I meet” by Emily Dickinson when we think of a classic sad funeral poem.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Poems About the Circle of Life for a Funeral or Memorial Service
- Poems About the Circle of Life for a Wedding
- Other Circle of Life Poems
It may be counterintuitive, but poetry about death doesn’t have to be sad. Instead, you can choose a poem for your eventual funeral service (or one for your loved one who recently passed) that focuses more on the fact that death is a natural part of life.
Here are some “circle of life” funeral poems. We will also include some that you might want to use for a wedding or other occasion.
Poems About the Circle of Life for a Funeral or Memorial Service
Death is inevitable. Instead of focusing on its power over our loved ones, why not celebrate a life well lived? Here are some poems about death that have a more positive perspective than most.
1. “She is Gone” by David Harkins
The best line in this poem about death is: “You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday, or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.” This poem is often used at funerals. Change the pronoun to reflect the appropriate gender of your loved one.
2. “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye
One of the most common funeral poems is this one by Mary Elizabeth Frye. Even though the phrase “circle of life” does not appear in the poem, it has a somewhat uplifting view of death.
The deceased is the speaker in this poem, and the deceased asks mourners to look for reminders of their lives while spending time in nature.
3. “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust” by Kev Elmer
Most people think that the phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” appears in the Bible. Even though there is mention of ashes in the Bible, this phrase was first used in this form in a prayer book. Regardless, this poem, which is based on this famous phrase, reminds us that we will eventually return to the earth.
4. “A Child Said, ‘What is Grass?’” by Walt Whitman
In Walt Whitman’s masterpiece, “Leaves of Grass,” there is a short section where the speaker ponders the leaves of grass beneath his feet. He thinks about the deceased buried beneath the ground and wonders about the person who could have fertilized the soil for the grass to grow.
This section ends with the line, “All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”
Although this is not a typical funeral poem, it is one to reflect upon when thinking about the circle of life.
5. “Afterwards” by Thomas Hardy
Have you ever thought about your legacy? How do you want others to think of you after you die? In “Afterwards” by Thomas Hardy, the speaker thinks about what he wants his friends and neighbors to say about him after he’s gone.
Poems About the Circle of Life for a Wedding
It’s not often that you find one article that focuses on poetry for both funerals and weddings, but the circle of life theme can be present in both major life events.
Here are some circle of life poems that are more celebratory in nature.
6. “An Apache Song” by Unknown
This plainly written “song” is a beautiful way to describe the marriage ceremony. It doesn’t focus on passion or love. Instead, it refers to how the couple will “Go now to your dwelling place, to enter into your days together. And may your days be good, and long upon the earth.” That’s all anyone can ask for, isn’t it?
7. “Rebirth” by Antonio Machado
Do you feel as if your wedding is a time of rebirth? If you feel like your wedding day is a point of renewal, where you can now “walk through life in dreams out of love of the hand that leads us,” perhaps this is the poem for you.
8. “Geniuses of Countless Nations” by Ogden Nash
This poem celebrates marriage to a perfect person. It includes the line, “Darling, when I look at you, Every aged phrase is new, And there are moments when it seems I’ve married one of Shakespeare’s dreams.”
This poem reminds us that being married to the perfect person can make you feel like you are starting anew.
9. “My Grief Has Ended” Afghan Love Song
We love the opening line of this poem/song. “Comes now the season of joy. For the flowers of Spring are jeweling my green garden. Let us make ready to walk through its paths. Go!”
The title and theme of this poem imply that grief and love are distinct parts of life.
10. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
This often-quoted scripture is that The Byrds “borrowed” for their song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” This is the perfect example of a text that speaks about the circle of life.
Other Circle of Life Poems
Are you looking for circle of life poems for other occasions? Here are some to consider. It is a rather common theme in poetry, so look through a collection written by your favorite poet to see if you can find something to fit the bill.
11. “Circle of Life” by Tim Rice
Even though this song is from a children’s movie, it has rather poignant lyrics. Think about the words of this uplifting song the next time you watch “The Lion King.”
12. “Cycle” by Langston Hughes
This poem reads,
“So many little flowers
Drop their tiny heads
But newer buds come to bloom
In their place instead.
I miss the little flowers
That have gone away.
But the newly budding blossoms
Are equally gay.”
13. “The Cycle of Life” by Valsa George
This poet thought about all that occurs between birth and death in this poem called “The Cycle of Life.” It includes this line: “Each stage is a link in the chain of life. And birth and death, just doorways in and out.”
14. “Circle of Life” by Timothy Hicks
“Circle of Life” is a shape poem, and it speaks about how the parent/child roles sometimes switch at a certain point in life. If you are looking at a poem about caring for a parent years after caring for you, this is one to consider.
15. “Beginning, Middle, End” by Renee Rothberg
Are you looking for a poem that describes the stages of life? Renee Rothberg describes each cycle. The beginning is “full of wonder and future,” the middle is “busy with growth and past-present-future,” and the end is heavy with “past and anticipation.”
Finding the Right Poem is Difficult Sometimes
If you are trying to find a poem for an event, you may have difficulty finding one that says exactly what you want it to say. One poem may be perfect, but the last stanza ruins it. Or perhaps there’s a word that the poet used that you would rather not appear in the funeral program for your loved one or your wedding program.
If you can’t find the exact right verse, you use an “edited” version of the poem. Still give credit to the author, but instead of writing the title at the top of the poem, label it as “From (Title of the Poem).”
You could also write a poem yourself. You don’t have to have work published in a college poetry anthology to be considered a poet. In fact, the internet has hundreds of poetry websites with pieces written by amateurs of all ages and skill levels.