There’s something about the open sea that makes people want to write poetry. Of course, it may be because of its beauty, but its vastness and danger also inspire awe. And since poets also seem to write a lot about death, finding pieces that include death and the sea is rather easy.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Contemporary Poems For a Sailor’s Funeral
- Old Poems For a Sailor’s Funeral
- Funeral Poems For a Navy Veteran
- What Is Your Favorite Sailing Poem?
If you are in charge of planning a memorial service for someone who spent his or her life on the ocean, here are some poems to consider. Some of them celebrate life at sea, and other poems are about the difficulties of making a living from the water. Still, others are about deaths that occur at sea.
Find the poem that sends the right message and tone for your loved one’s end-of-life services. You may ask a grandchild to read one of them at his grandfather’s funeral or have it printed on the funeral bulletin. Regardless of the use, here are some to consider.
COVID-19 tip: If you're officiating a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, you can still share your poems with your online guests. Coordinate with your planning team, make sure you have the right mics and speakers, and send online guests digital funeral programs with the full poems.
Contemporary Poems For a Sailor’s Funeral
How do you say goodbye to the one you loved? We all must do it at some point in our lives. If you find yourself facing this dilemma for the first time, consider the following piece of advice.
Your loved one’s memorial service should reflect his or her personality. If your dad kept everyone in stitches, consider writing a funny eulogy. If your mom dedicated her life to serving a favorite charity, make sure the memorial donations go to that non-profit.
And if your uncle lived a life at sea, choose one of these funeral poems.
Tip: Choosing funeral poems and readings might be just a small part of your post-death responsibilities. If you need helping sorting it all out, check out our post-loss checklist.
1. “Sea Canes” by Derek Walcott
In this poem, a man becomes frustrated that all his friends and companions are gone, but he hears their voices whispering to him from the ocean. The speaker says, “Tonight I can snatch their talk from the faint surf’s drone.” If you are looking for a unique piece to share, consider this one by Derek Walcott.
2. “The Cup of Ocean” by Amos Russel Wells
If your loved one found magic and beauty in the ocean, this may be the appropriate poem for his or her funeral service. The sea is described as, “Glory of purple and glint of gold; Tenderest greens and heavenly blue, Shot with the sunlight through and through.”
3. “I Am Standing Upon the Seashore” by Henry Van Dyke
This is a beautiful description of death. It describes standing by the sea and seeing a boat sail off into the horizon. The final stanza reads, “And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she is gone!” There are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout; “Here she comes!” And that is dying.”
This is an extremely popular funeral poem, especially for someone who lived his life at sea.
4. “A Life on the Ocean Wave” by Epes Sargent
Did your loved one feel most alive when on the ocean? Perhaps this would be an excellent choice to read at your loved one’s funeral. The poem includes the lines, “Once more on the deck I stand, of my own swift-gliding craft: Set sail! farewell to the land! The gale follows fair abaft.”
5. “Sea Fever” by John Masefield
Did your loved one miss the sea after he retired from the Navy? This poem speaks of the longing that people feel when they have to spend life on land. It says, “I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by; And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.”
6. “Sailing To-Night” by Anonymous
A small child asks the moon to follow his father’s ship as his dad leaves on a long journey. Although it is not clear who wrote these words, they sound like they could have been from an old often-repeated song.
Old Poems For a Sailor’s Funeral
There are plenty of old poems that would be perfect for a sailor’s funeral. In fact, you may feel as if every classical poet has written about sailing at some time during his or her career. Here are some by Dylan Thomas, Robert Louis Stevenson, Langston Hughes, and other great American and British poets.
7. “Death Shall Have No Dominion” by Dylan Thomas
This poem says that even though death is powerful, it cannot control everything. In fact, even though sailors “sink through the sea, they shall rise again.” This spiritual poem is often used to reflect on death, and it can be found in many poetry anthologies.
8. “Requiem” by Robert Louis Stevenson
In this short poem, the speaker is someone who has come to terms with his death. He asks that his loved one includes this phrase on his headstone: “Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from the sea.”
9. “At Melville’s Tomb” by Hart Crane
Herman Melville’s most famous work was the seafaring tale of “Moby Dick.” This poem was written to honor the novelist/sailor. The last stanza reads, “Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive no farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps Monody shall not wake the mariner. This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.”
10. “Sea Calm” by Langston Hughes
This short poem may be used poignantly at the funeral of your loved one. The entire poem reads,
How strangely still
The water is today,
It is not good
To be so still that way.”
Langston Hughes was known as being a pivotal poet during the Harlem Renaissance.
11. “Just a Common Soldier (A Soldier Died Today)” by A. Lawrence Vaincourt
This lengthy poem decries the fact that politicians lie in state after they die. One stanza reads, “He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin, But his presence should remind us we may need his like again. For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier’s part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.”
12. “The Ship of Life” by John T. Baker
This poem is very similar to the third one on our list. The idea of a ship going off into the horizon is the same. This poem includes a last stanza that is different than the poem listed previously. It reads, “We’re built to cruise for but a while upon this trackless sea, until one day we sail away into infinity.”
Funeral Poems For a Navy Veteran
Are you planning the funeral of a Navy veteran? You may already know, but “crossing the bar” refers to the death of a sailor. Here are some poems for your loved one who recently crossed the bar.
13. “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The sailor in the poem requests that no one cries at his death. Instead, he states, “Twilight and evening bell, And after that the dark! And may there be no sadness of farewell, when I embark.”
14. “When The Last Hand Comes Aboard” by Richard John Scarr
This rhyming poem describes the moment when a sailor if finally able to “stand down,” and accept his eternal reward. An English poet wrote it.
15. “O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman wrote this poem for Abraham Lincoln after he was assassinated. Even though Lincoln never served as a sea captain, Whitman described him in that role in this poem.
16. “A Sailor’s Prayer” by Unknown
This prayer/poem begins, “I am just a sailor, a protector of our land. A servant called to battle when my country takes a stand.” This would be a beautiful piece to include on the memorial card for a loved one who was a sailor.
17. “A Sailor’s Ballad” by Ruby Archer
The sailor is reminded repeatedly to “never leave a loose end” in this poem. Ruby Archer was an American poet who was born far from the sea in Kansas City, Missouri.
18. “The Old Sailor” by Margaret E. Sangster
Did your loved one struggle to “sit in peace” at the end of his life? Old sailors sometimes miss the sea and struggle when retired.
What Is Your Favorite Sailing Poem?
If you have lived a life at sea, you probably have a favorite sailing poem. If you have one, share it with your loved ones when pre-planning your funeral.
Besides sharing your favorite poetry, you may also want to tell whether you would like to be buried or cremated. Also, leave details about who you would like to speak at your funeral, and what music you would like to have played at your memorial service.
If you served in the Navy, you are probably great at taking care of details. Don’t overlook these decisions that are some of the most important that you will make in your life.