Reading poems can be a cathartic experience, with many poets capturing raw emotion and deep feelings in just a few lines of prose. By reading magnetizing poetry that resonates, it can dig through some of the tough layers surrounding your feelings. And sometimes with the sudden death of a loved one, looking to the written word may be a significant moment of solace.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- ‘Gone Too Soon’ Poems for a Friend
- ‘Gone Too Soon’ Poems for a Relative
- ‘Gone Too Soon’ Poems for an Acquaintance
It’s hard to feel prepared, but sudden deaths rattle you. Whether you’re looking for some elegiac prose or simply some emotional lines for your sorrow, poetry can be the best place to start looking.
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‘Gone Too Soon’ Poems for a Friend
If a chosen loved one has died suddenly, consider looking to these poets to remind you how to get through loss and deal with emotions.
1. "But Not Forgotten" by Dorothy Parker
This poem is full of hope. Even if Parker can’t follow her friend into the unknown, she will go as far as she can. She commits to remembering her friend forever, no matter how long it is before she sees them again.
In her poem, Parker also chooses to believe they’ll remember her, too. Everything she did, from her words to her smile, will be treasured in this friend’s memory.
2. "Lady Lazarus" by Sylvia Plath
Plath struggled with mental illness issues during her lifetime. However, she was also an emotional poet willing to look at things differently.
And in this poem, she does just that. Plath paints death as an eventual triumph and victory, contrary to the words commonly used, such as loss. This is particularly true if someone was battling a terminal illness. By reframing the way we consider death, everything changes.
Plath also uses biblical metaphors to make her point. In the New Testament, Lazarus was a man resurrected by Jesus. The loss and grief were turned into joy and celebration.
3. "If I should die” by Emily Dickinson
Dickinson was known for her secretive nature as a poet. Most of her work wasn’t discovered until after her death.
Dickinson posthumously became a celebrated American poet with a cohesive collection of work. Dickinson preferred to spend a lot of time alone in her house, giving her the ability to contemplate deep subjects, including death. Many of her poems revolve around death.
Dickinson chooses a different approach to thinking about death. She lists the ways nature would continue in her absence—time, sunrises, bees gathering pollen—and realizes the world still continues. To Dickinson, this is a very comforting thought.
4. "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Shelley reflects on the relationship between death and sleep. One is only more permanent than the other. This approach takes some of the fear away from death.
By using natural metaphors, Shelley illustrates the difference. Death is compared to the moon. Sleep is compared to the sunrise. Both give light and are part of the natural order.
5. “And you as well must die” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
No matter how brave and beautiful they are, everyone dies. Millay describes a potent love, describing it as having a “perfect head” and a “body of flame and steel.”
But even this, its strength and ability to withstand a storm, they too shall wither “before the gust of death,” like everything else that is beautiful. This poem touches upon the brevity of beauty in life, and even through trying our best, we cannot even protect the ones we deem most beautiful from death.
‘Gone Too Soon’ Poems for a Relative
These poems could be included in a funeral handout, or read aloud at a service.
6. "Funeral Blues” by W.H. Auden
Auden is plunged into a silent world when someone he loves dies. Everything seems out of place, and in his sorrow, Auden wants the world to mourn too.
His poem is a desperate cry for everything to be silence. From clocks to dogs to pianos, the world should reflect his grief. It seems impossible to Auden that he is the only one grieving.
He realizes why he’s reacting so intensely, though. This was no ordinary love. The deceased was as crucial to him as a compass or a calendar. They were integral to his everyday life.
7. "On the death of Anne Brontë” by Charlotte Brontë
The Brontë sisters were a famous literary trio. They were both prolific and talented. Today, their works are dedicated to their own vast literature programs and analyses. The Brontës were close as writers, but also as sisters. On Anne’s death, her sister Charlotte turned to poetry to express her feelings.
Charlotte starts the poem by acknowledging Anne’s importance. If she could, Charlotte would trade places. She would have died to save Anne, but that option wasn’t given to her.
Anne’s death also wreaked havoc on Charlotte’s emotions in other ways. She was quite sick, and in pain. In the end, Charlotte even wished for her sister’s death so she would suffer no longer.
8. "Bustle in the House” by Emily Dickinson
One of Dickinson’s many strengths as a poet was her attention to detail. She always noted tiny things that no one else would. More than that,
Dickinson realized what these things meant. Nothing is as it seems in Dickinson’s world. Even tiny actions are imbued with deeper meaning. In this poem, Dickinson talks about the stir of activity in a house after death. She realizes that the inhabitants are trying to drown their grief in motion.
Dickinson doesn’t ascribe this motion to ordinary housework, though. She says that the bereaved person is cleaning up their heart and their love. They’re tucking these items away, in the belief that they won’t need them for the rest of their life.
9. "My God, It’s Full of Stars” by Tracy K. Smith
Smith wrote this poem for a unique reason. Her father had died, and she wanted to work through her feelings with a poem. Her unique slant, though, was informed by her dad’s profession.
He was one of the men who worked on the Hubble Telescope. She remembers the magic of the galaxies, the energy of a telescope launch, and the peace of sitting near her dad.
10. "What the Living Do” by Marie Howe
Howe wrote this poem to express her feelings after her brother died. Even in mundane acts, she recognizes what moving on looks like. It’s rarely dramatic.
It’s only continuing the tiny things that set the living apart from the dead. In the poem, Howe lists things that she’s done. From buying a hairbrush to spilling coffee, this is what makes her human.
‘Gone Too Soon’ Poems for an Acquaintance
You could include these poems in a condolence card.
11. "Bread and Music” by Conrad Aiken
This poem is a great option for a eulogy. Some acquaintances have the gift of bringing more beauty into your life. Music seems better and the food seems tastier. Aiken laments the loss of such a person.
In our lives, we may have a few close friends. Through work, school, and activities, we have many acquaintances. Adding them all together brings rich color to our lives. It’s hard to know how to write a eulogy, but this poem is a great start.
12. "Tiara” by Mark Doty
Doty pays homage to a unique person. The subject of the poem, Peter, died wearing a paper tiara. During his time in hospice care, Peter was passionate about many things.
Bette Davis films, princess paper dolls, and jewels were all things he loved. Doty realizes how these ‘quirks’ brought people together at Peter’s funeral. Doty’s verses make a lighthearted funeral poem.
13. "Death” by Joe Brainard
Few poets take the approach of being tongue-in-cheek about death. Brainard uses these verses to put death into perspective. Everyone and everything dies, which makes it a normal part of nature.
Often, death is demonized, but Brainard speaks plainly about it. Since everyone dies, your acquaintance was in good company.
14. "The Scattering” by Penelope Shuttle
This poem is an odd, abstract reflection on all the things someone could become in another life. In the poem, Shuttle scatters a friend’s ashes. She lists all the things they could become. From birds to wild roses, the possibilities are endless.
15. "Epitaph on a Friend” by Robert Burns
Burns lists the great qualities of a friend in a simple fashion. From honesty to knowledge, his friend made the best of the world he lived in with these qualities.
Using These Poems
There are many ways to deal with grief. You can read poems aloud with family members to connect with them. You can read books on grief.
Or, you could listen to music. No matter how you cope, it’s important to give yourself time to do so. Recovering can be a long process for anyone.