‘Do Not Stand at My Grave And Weep:’ Author, Origin & Explanation

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Poems and literature are a powerful way to express one’s thoughts and feel heard without needing to find your own words. With so many popular funeral poems, one, in particular, stands out. The poem “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye has impacted readers across the globe. 

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This poem encourages readers to use their grief to live their life to the fullest. Though their loved one might no longer be with them, they’re never really gone. Loss doesn’t need to be sad. It can be an invitation to explore nature, adventure farther, and live life in loving memory of someone special. 

It pays to take a few moments to dive deep into Frye’s “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep.” To understand the author, the poem’s origin, and what these words really mean, keep reading.  

What Does the Poem ‘Do Not Stand at My Grave And Weep’ Mean? 

The poem “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” is a call to action in 12 lines. It’s composed of rhyming couplets in iambic tetrameter, though a few lines have extra syllables breaking up the structure to give extra emphasis. 

To understand what the poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye means, it’s best to go line by line. It begins:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep. 

The first line is a repetition of the title. The narrator, an unknown individual who we must assume is the deceased person, encourages the reader not to stand at their grave and cry. To cry at someone’s grave is a pointless activity, they argue. In reality, “[they are] not there.” 

Oftentimes, as a society, we make the comparison between death and sleep. We lay our loved ones “to rest” and we imagine them finding comfort in this eternal peace. The narrator in Fyre’s poem disagrees with this comparison. The poem goes on to boldly say, “I do not sleep.” This lends the question, if they’re not sleeping, what are they doing?

I am a thousand winds that blow. 
I am the diamond that glints on snow. 
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

The following lines repeat “I am” as a way to list all of the things the narrator is now that they’re no longer living. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not at peace at all. Rather, you’ll find them alive with every change in weather. 

In these lines, Fyre alludes to the four changing seasons. With the blowing winds, the narrator is a part of the unpredictable weather of spring. As the “diamonds” glint on snow, they’re the chilly winter air. In the summer, they’re the sunlight” and in the autumn, they’re the gentle rain.” 

When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 

The narrator is also in plain sight. Each morning when you wake up, if you listen closely enough, you’ll find their spirit in the “swift uplifting rush” of the morning’s birds in flight. In many parts of the world, birds are seen as a symbol of guardian angels and remembrance. 

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.

Lastly, the narrator reminds the reader that they’re always present in the stars that shine every night. They’re both above in the heavens and below in the natural elements around us. They are everywhere, and because of this they can never really die. 

ยป MORE: If you've lost someone, it's not always clear what comes next. These next steps are here for you.

 

'Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep' and Remembrance

Upon first reading, you might wonder whether the author has complicated views about the afterlife. In reality, this poem isn’t about the afterlife, Heaven, or what happens after death at all. It’s a poem about remembrance and legacy. 

Though your loved one is gone, their memory is always with you. If you’re attuned to nature, you’ll hear them in the chirping birds, and you’ll feel their presence watching over you every day. 

This idea that those we love never leave us is a powerful one. It’s why this is such a popular poem for obituaries and funerals. After a loss, we all want to know that those we love are still near. Though somber in tone, this is not a sad poem. It’s a reminder to pay close attention to the world around you. 

While everyone still should take the time to experience grief on their own terms, “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” is a call to action. It urges readers and listeners to not get lost in these feelings of sadness and mourning. 

Though these feelings are valid, grief will not stop the neverending turning of nature and time. There is no reason to waste time standing at someone’s grave. As the narrator says, “[they] are not there.” They are in our memories, our actions, and the world around us. 

Who Wrote ‘Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep?’

For a long time, the author of “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” was disputed. Since this poem was written by someone who didn’t have any published poetry prior, it took 60 years to prove Mary Elizabeth Frye was truly the author. 

In many ways, Frye’s biography does not follow the same narrative of most other well-known writers. She was born in Dayton, Ohio, and she lived most of her life like any other housewife. 

One key thing that makes her stand out, however, is her early introduction with death. She lost both of her parents at a young age, and she grew up as an orphan. Though they didn’t receive an extensive education, she was an avid reader with an exceptional memory. After marrying Claud Frye, she became a self-employed florist. 

Her poem “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” was her first published work. Though she continued writing throughout her life, none of her future work was as popular as her first poem. 

What’s the History of Origin of the Poem?

Frye’s life was very much affected by grief from her early years. As explained above, she grew up as an orphan who was too young to say a real goodbye to her parents. However, the origin for “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” actually came from an experience she had during her thirties. 

In 1932, a young Jewish girl from Germany stayed at her home due to unrest before World War II. While there, the girl’s mother passed away in Germany. The young girl experienced significant feelings of loss, and these were made worse by her regret over never being able to talk to her mother before she died. 

According to Frye, her houseguest spoke often in her grief of not being able to “stand by [her] mother’s grave and shed a tear.” Frye personally knew what it meant to lose a parent, and the words of her poem simply came to her after that. 

“Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” has since become a widely popular poem. Because it addresses a concept—grief—so familiar to us all, it’s in many ways a bridge connecting people of all walks of life. 

Where Do You Find ‘Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep’ in Books or Movies?

Since this poem’s resurgence in the 1990s, it’s been featured thousands of times in popular books, movies, and TV. Here are some of the places you might have spotted it yourself. 

Life Wish by Jill Ireland

Jill Ireland is an actress, producer, and the wife of actor Charles Bronson. After she learns she has cancer, she dedicates her life to staying positive. 

She realizes that once she makes peace with death, mortality, and pain, she can see the light at the end of the tunnel. She utilizes Frye’s poem to share her thoughts on legacy in her work. 

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep by Paul Saunders

Paul Saunders is an illustrator who brings Fyre’s poetry to life. Each page of the book has a line from the poem, complete with a simple yet beautiful illustration.

This is not only a great thing to send to someone who lost a loved one, but it’s a powerful reminder of the nature of grief. 

Stasis

In the film Stasis, the full poem is recited at around the hour mark. The character Ava decides she needs to take action for herself. There’s nobody who can do anything for her, and the poem is a reminder that life must go on.

Desperate Housewives

The popular TV series Desperate Housewives also features a recital of this poem. A paraphrased version is read by the character Karen for Ida. After Ida’s death, her ashes are scattered on a baseball field to the words of this poem. 

Death and Poetry: a Tale as Old as Time

Poetry has been used to help us come to terms with death, dying, and mortality since the earliest days of literature. Mary Elizabeth Frye helped capture the complex feelings of both sorrow and grief after the loss of a loved one. Though we might wish to stand at someone’s grave and cry, this poem is a reminder that life is worth living. 

Our loved ones are remembered in so many ways. From the warmth of the summer sun to the stars that shine at night, they never really leave us. With this knowledge comes peace. Whether you want this poem included in your funeral wishes or it simply brings you comfort, you’re not alone. 

If you're looking for more on death and poetry, read our guides on poems about death and death anniversary poems.


Sources

  1. “Biography of Mary Elizabeth Frye.” A Poem For Every Day: Biographies. EmilysPoetryBlog.com

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