20+ Famous Poems to Commemorate a Death Anniversary

Updated

How long has it been since you have lost your loved one? You may have noticed that your grief has changed, even though it is still very much a part of your life. The pain will perhaps be with you forever. 

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As you approach the anniversary of the death, you may consider making special plans for the day. Perhaps you feel like volunteering at a local non-profit that was beloved by your family member. Maybe you feel like spending the day with your family so that you can share special memories of the deceased. Perhaps you want to spend all day in bed. 

Regardless of how you spend your time, here are some poems to read, share, or post on social media as you reflect on life without your loved one. 

Death Anniversary Poems for a Parent or Grandparent

You never recover from the death of a parent or grandparent because those individuals are always in your heart. Here are some poems that may remind you of that familial bond. 

1. “Death Poem” by Setsudo

This haiku was found in a book of death poems written by Zen monks immediately before they died. The full text of this poem reads, 

“Now then,
For my journey to the yonder world
I’ll wear a gown of flowers.”

Setsudo died in 1776 at the age of 61. The imagery of going into the afterlife while wearing a “gown of flowers” may remind you of someone in your family. 

2. “Rain Light” by W.S. Merwin

A mother tells her child, “when you are alone you will be all right.” She says that nature will remind the child about how human life compares with Earth’s longevity.

3. “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

This is one of the most famous poems about death. It describes a son who sits on his father’s death bed. He wants his father to fight against his disease instead of going “gently.” Perhaps you wanted the same thing from your parent or grandparent. 

4. “Sestina” by Elizabeth Bishop

A death anniversary often causes people to reflect upon the memories they shared with the deceased. In this poem, the speaker reflects upon a moment with her grandmother. It seems as if they are both sad at the loss of someone, but it is not entirely clear who that person is. 

Death Anniversary Poems for Siblings

Losing a sibling is especially difficult because many of your early memories were shared with that person. Here are some “in loving memory” poems that may remind you of your brother or sister.  

5. “Remember Me When I’m Gone Away” by Christina Rosetti

The speaker in this poem knows death is near. Although they want to be remembered, they don’t want to be mourned. Instead, the person prefers to be remembered with a smile.

6. “Requiem” by Ryszard Krynicki

Death is described as “life’s only promise” in this Polish poem.

7. “Redemption Song” by Kevin Young

Although it is not clear who died in the poem “Redemption Song,” the speaker tries to describe the off-balanced feeling of grief. On the one hand, the world continues, and so do you. But then you remember what happened, and the pain floods back into your consciousness.

8. “Talking to Grief” by Denise Levertov

We love this poem, which describes grief as a dog. Our dogs are a part of our lives, just as grief is a part of our life. Although grief is connected with feelings of sadness and tears, we don’t have those feelings for people that we didn’t love. That’s why grief should be a part of our lives, just as our dogs are.

9. “Mid-Term Break” by Seamus Heaney

This poem tells the story of a college student whose studies were interrupted by the death of his four-year-old brother. The second stanza is particularly poignant. It reads, “In the porch I met my father crying / He had always taken funerals in his stride / And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.”

Death Anniversary Poems for a Spouse or Partner

Are you facing the death anniversary of your spouse or partner? It may be difficult, especially if no one else seems to remember it. Here are some poems about grieving the loss of someone you loved. 

10. “The Widow’s Lament in Springtime” by William Carlos Williams

Usually, springtime is a time of hope and rebirth. The speaker in this poem is suffering because all the blossoming trees remind her of her lost love. 

11. “A River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” by Ezra Pound

We know this letter does not speak to every situation, but it tells the story of a young wife whose husband never returns after leaving for a boat trip. Even though the widow grows older, she tells her lost husband that she will meet him “as far as Cho-fu-Sa.”

12. “The Cross of Snow” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We aren’t sure who the speaker is mourning in “The Cross of Snow,” but we know that the speaker is reminded of the one he lost 18 years after her death. It’s hard to know what to say on a death anniversary. Grief does not have an expiration date. 

13. “Weeds and Peonies” by Donald Hall

The speaker in this poem lost his wife of many years. In the spring, when the peonies bloom, he cuts off a head and places it in a glass bowl, just as his wife had done.

Death Anniversary Poems for a Child

The death of a child is always traumatizing because it is not the natural order of things. Here are some poems that speak about these especially-difficult deaths. 

14. “On My First Son” by Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson was a well-known poet for his time. But upon the death of his son, he felt that others would say “here doth lie Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry” when visiting the grave. 

15. “Dirge” by William Shakespeare

It is not clear whether or not the person described in this poem is a child or not, but it seems appropriate to read following a child’s death. It speaks of all the fears of life, and how, after death, there is nothing more to fear. 

16. "Stillbirth” by Laure-Anne Bosselaar

A woman stands on a train platform and hears someone yell the name of her stillborn child. She rushes to the train to look for the child, even though she knows that person never had a chance to be born. This heartbreaking poem may help someone who delivered a stillborn child. 

17. “Abiku” by Afaa Michael Weaver

This poem is dedicated to Michael S. Weaver Jr., 1971–1972. This poem is about the guilt a father feels after the death of a child. He reflects on the death of his child, 23 years after it happened, and remembers when he “went mad with grief.”

Death Anniversary Poems for a Friend

Are you missing a good friend? Perhaps it’s a friend from childhood or a good neighbor? Here are some poems about missing those people who make life worth living. 

18. “The Rites for Cousin Vit” by Gwendolyn Brooks

The speaker in this poem says that death “can’t hold” her cousin. Instead of envisioning her cousin in the casket, she thinks of her “too vital and too squeaking.”

19. “Never More Will the Wind” by Hilda Doolittle

This poem has the opposite theme of the previous piece. While the speaker in the last poem says that death cannot remove the vitality of her cousin, the speaker in this poem reflects how the deceased is gone from the world. It begins, “Never more will the wind cherish you again.”

20. “Mourning Chao” by Li Po

We love how death is described in Chinese poetry. Chao is described as wandering in the “islands of immortals. Floundering in emerald seas.”

21. “On the Death of Friends in Childhood” by Donald Justice

The speaker in this poem reflects upon childhood friends who died young. He surmises that when seeing them in heaven, they will not be bearded or bald. Even though this thought may sound like an unemotional response, he thinks back with happiness upon his childhood friends who played games “whose very names we have forgotten.”

What Poems Reminds You of Your Loved One?

Instead of reading poems about death, you may enjoy spending the death anniversary of your loved one reading poems that they enjoyed during life. Not everyone has a favorite poem or poet, but perhaps your loved one kept a book of verses on their nightstand and had marked favorite passages. 

What else did your loved one enjoy? You may also consider listening to music by a favorite band or watching a favorite movie of your loved one. Perhaps you can simply toast your loved one with their favorite type of beer. Share what you are doing to remember the deceased with others, so they can reflect on the life of the one you lost. 

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