What does it mean when you keep seeing cardinals? Many believe that cardinals are messengers from heaven, bringing signs to loved ones from the divine. But unlike the cardinal itself, cardinal poems are elusive.
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So, we scoured personal books and the Internet to bring you the most beloved cardinal-themed poems available for a funeral or memorial service. Commonly, funeral poems about birds or cardinals are popular themes, especially as the symbolism of wings matches that of angels as messengers from heaven.
Poems About Cardinals for a Funeral or Memorial Service
Below are some poems fitting for a funeral or memorial service that’ll remind you of your loved one—ones that speak of their charms or delights and ones that help others recall their spirit and determination.
1. “Red Bird” by Mary Oliver
We start with “Red Bird” from the late poet Mary Oliver as it’s an homage to all of God's birds as well as the eager resolve of the cardinal. Oliver explains that its bright red plumage shows up every day to a feeder throughout the coldest months, brightening the landscape, delighting in seeing the contrast over the long, cold months.
At a memorial service, her poem would work well for a steadfast friend, devoted parent, or a partner that was your rock when life tried to throw your everything and anything your way.
2. “I Will Try” by Mary Oliver
Continuing, Mary Oliver's poetry peels off the outer layers and reveals intimate truths most people keep inside. In her poem, "I Will Try," Oliver applauds the cardinal and aspires to find momentum forward and live similarly to its beautiful song.
I will try.
I will step from the house to see what I see
and hear and I will praise it.
I did not come into this world
to be comforted.
I came, like red bird, to sing.
Her poem works for that person who never backed down, always picked themselves right back up, and managed to see the beauty through the darkness.
3. “The Cardinals Today” by Robert King
In Robert King's "The Cardinals Today," we find a commentary about the once very stereotypical behaviors of one gender to that of another. Young men studied strength and might, he writes, while young women studied love and mating.
But even as these roles and needs change for humans over time and with years of love, cardinals just keep living and loving just as they always have. The contrast deepens the appreciation for what we perceive as truth, but what is yet unknown or unrecognizable from the human lens.
4. “Cardinals” by John Jackson
Jackson’s poem details the differences between a male and female cardinal. In particular, he compares the female cardinal to the human woman; her muted cardinal colors are not unlike that which is familiar to the human feminine, writing that a woman reveals herself and her love to those who are patient and loving.
The hale-fellow no season can deter;
She an emblem of the feminine,
Because to see all that there is in her
Takes long patience, which is love’s discipline.
5. “The Cardinal Red” by Orrick Johns
Orrick Johns’ decades-old cardinal poetry holds religious undertones. However, if you understand his viewpoints when he wrote this poem, the cardinal may be a metaphor for some sweeping criticism of politics.
However, if taken at face value, cardinals are a standout in the wood as Springtime turns to Winter; their crimson feathers expose greater brilliancy with every snowfall. That small comparison speaks for the aging process, where people become more defined and valued as the seasons carry them along.
6. “Hope is the Thing With Feathers” by Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson's poem is about birds in general but aptly applies to the cardinal who weathers the storm yet never seeks help. This tenacious little creature forages all winter long, its vibrancy exposed by the brightness of glistening crystalline snow. Nevertheless, the cardinal sings through it all.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
7. “Cardinal Song” by Gregory D. Welch
A common theme for cardinals is an anthropomorphic personality, which is a tenacious, almost defiant spirit, appearing in the morning and out into the cold, no matter the day or temperature.
The cardinal sings in early morning
Carving the cold with fog breath rhythm
A sing song defiance
A feathery red contrast
The cardinal is much like the loved ones we've lost. Even their drive and determinations live on as memories endure.
8. “The Cardinal’s Song” by Krystle O’Brien
"The Cardinal's Song" sets afire the senses noting the morning spring air, the sun rising, and the sound of hungry babes. It'll work for the friend or loved one that embraced the dawn, seeing each day as an opportunity.
Red among the trees
Sway with the wind
Clarity sets when inhaled
Anticipation of sunrise
With pleasant melodies
Melodic phrases by the pair
More elaborate sung by she
Poems About Cardinals and Death or Heaven
Some believe that visits from a cardinal are representative of a loved one sending them a message from heaven or another spirit world. No matter the perception, if one sweet little bird brings the memory of a loved one near, and especially when you need it most, then there’s great importance in the message.
9. “Red Feathered Soul” by Elle Bee
Many people gravitate to Elle Bee’s poem “Red Feathered Soul” because it resonates with the survivors who believe that cardinals are messengers for the afterlife. In it, Bee writes, “My cardinal song is a call to you,/ To tell you that I miss you, too.”
It’ll work for those who know that their loved ones are in heaven but sending messages of love via the deep canal of the cardinal song.
10. “The Cardinals’ Song” by Emily G. Seberger
When poet Emily G. Seberger invokes her grandmother's memory with that of the visiting cardinal, she's not just retelling a story. Seberger reminds the reader that when we see the things that our loved ones treasured, memories flow in abundance just like the poet’s memories about her grandmother.
As long as they come,
To brighten up my day
And bring me some joy,
To continue on my way.
11. “Red Cardinal” by Madeleine C. Jones
Madeleine C. Jones’s poem is about the grief over the loss of a daughter. As the poet’s head sinks heavily into a pillow for a springtime nap, she notices a red cardinal resting upon her windowsill. While dozing off, she recalls the spirit of her daughter, one that was full of vigor.
Once awake, she notices that the cardinal is still there. Jones writes,
All I do to the bird is smile on this Sunday,
Because I see that my daughter is not flying away.
12. “The Cardinal” by Pam Waters Carson
Pam Waters Carson’s sweet poem about being protected and supported by God resonates with many people seeking answers and pathways to living better. Her poetry isn’t easy to find, so we’ve copied the entire poem here:
The Cardinal sits upon the branch.
He does not know which way to glance.
He only knows that God above
Is looking down in deepest love.
I look to you dear God above
And pray for your redeeming love,
To guide me through my nights and days,
And flight my fleeting fears away!
13. “Visitor From Heaven” by Unknown Author
Here’s a short little poem that’ll work well if written on a card or a friend’s social media page. To amplify the message, find a card with the picture of a cardinal on the front or upload one of your own for them to see.
I saw a cardinal in my tree,
the bright red color
so beautiful to see.
thoughts of loved ones
brought a smile to my face,
as I watched it flitter
about with grace.
Visitors from Heaven
they are said to be,
I feel blessed that
you came to see me.
14. Untitled Poem by Victoria McGovern
Envisioning the cardinal acting as a direct messenger of a loved one adds comfort in times of great sorrow.
Here, in McGovern’s short poem, she hopes that you’ll go about your day as usual. Make some tea, go outside and enjoy it, and then wait for the sign. She writes,
May you come to find comfort in and remember —
Cardinals appear when angels are near.
So go now, sit outside and drink your tea.
Keep a look out for the little red bird —
It is there, your loved ones will be.
15. “Red Bird Explains Himself” by Mary Oliver
Perhaps we’ve saved the best poem for last. Here, in “Red Bird Explains Himself,” Mary Oliver offers the readers an explanation of the cardinal’s purpose. In the first few lines, Oliver announces a bird’s life as a caretaker, partner, and parent. She then goes on to write,
If I was the song that entered your heart
then I was the music of your heart, that you wanted and needed,
and thus wilderness bloomed that, with all its
followers: gardeners, lovers, people who weep
for the death of rivers
For the grief-stricken survivors, understanding the greater purpose and connectedness of the spirit world or afterlife with communication here and now provides solace when most needed.
The Spirituality and Symbolism of Cardinals
Cardinals are more than birds that symbolize death; they’re birds that illustrate the life of a loved one’s spirit after death.
And for many, it’s part of an essential healing process to see and infer someone’s voice or spirit reaching out through the beauty and mannerisms of the colorful but determined cardinal.
- Dickinson, Emily. “Hope is the Thing With Feathers.” Poets.org, Poets.org, n.d., poets.org/poem/hope-thing-feathers-254
- Seberger, Emily. “The Cardinal’s Song.” Family Friend Poems, Family Friend Poems, February 2006, familyfriendpoems.com/poem/the-cardinals-song
- Welch, Gregory D. “Cardinal Song.” Medium, Medium, 26 November 2019, medium.com/scribblerpress/cardinal-song-8737beb1cc2