When it comes to American poets, few were as influential as Walt Whitman. A self-taught writer, Walt Whitman was raised in New York on Long Island. He started his career as a teacher in the mid-19th-century, but he soon became an editor of his own newspaper. A lifelong celebrator of human dignity, his unique style of poetry resonated with people across the globe even after his death.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Walt Whitman Poems for Dad’s or Grandpa’s Funeral
- Walt Whitman Poems for Mom or Grandma’s Funeral
- Walt Whitman Poems for a Sibling’s Funeral
- Walt Whitman Poems for a Partner or Spouse’s Funeral
- Walt Whitman Poems for a Friend’s Funeral
With well-known works such as Leaves of Grass and “Song of Myself,” Whitman tried to leave a simple life. Today, he continues to be considered one of America’s most important poets. His work continues to be used today as popular funeral poems to honor loved ones. Whitman’s poetry often grapples with challenging themes like humanity, sense of self, and legacy. This is what makes his work such a great choice if you’re planning a funeral for a loved one.
With so many influential poems to choose from, we narrowed down the selection to highlight the best Walt Whitman poems for a funeral or memorial service. Celebrate Walt Whitman’s work, influence, and emotional explorations with these poems below.
Walt Whitman Poems for Dad’s or Grandpa’s Funeral
Saying goodbye to a father or grandfather is never easy. This is one of life’s first teachers, and the impact of this paternal role cannot be understated. These Walt Whitman funeral poems for dad or grandpa honor this special relationship.
1. "Song of Myself"
Of course, no list of Walt Whitman favorites would be complete without “Song of Myself.” This is a call for independence, self-expression, and staying true to oneself.
2. “I Hear America Singing”
Though known for his expansive, long poems, “I Hear America Singing” is only 11 lines long. The emphasis in this narrative is on the individual roles everyone plays in this great nation and also on what connects us all. This poem is a celebration.
3. “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”
This is one of the many elegies Whitman wrote about the death of Abraham Lincoln. The title refers to the moment the author learned of Lincoln’s assassination, and the poem reflects on what it means to be remembered.
4. “O Captain! My Captain!”
Another poem written in the wake of Lincoln’s death is the infamous “O Captain! My Captain!” Though most famously recognized from the Robin Williams’ film Dead Poets Society, this is about mourning at the end of a leader’s life.
5. "Pioneers! O Pioneers!"
Lastly, “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” is another tribute to America as the land of the self-made individual. Evoking the pioneering spirit of individuals, this is the perfect funeral poem for someone who lived life to the fullest.
Walt Whitman Poems for Mom or Grandma’s Funeral
With so many poems about nurturing and kindness, it’s easy to see why these Walt Whitman poems make the perfect funeral poems for mom. It’s difficult to capture what a mother or grandmother meant to you, and these poems are the language of emotions.
6. "I Sing the Body Electric"
Another one of Walt Whitman’s most famous poems is “I Sing the Body Electric.” In this poem, Whitman writes about his own body—but also his soul. He shares, “And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?”
7. “O Me! O Life!”
Though one of Whitman’s shorter poems, this work asks rhetorical questions that focus on what it means to feel peace with oneself. These questions are a normal part of life, but there might not be any answers.
8. “There Was a Child Went Forth”
In this poem, Whitman reflects on his own childhood. Though some moments feel small, these are the things that added to his overall richness of self.
9. “Poets to Come”
Whitman often struggled to find acceptance within his own generation of poets. However, he dedicates his work to the “poets to come.” Through their poetry in the future, he finds hope in the present.
10. "On the Beach at Night"
Finally, “On the Beach at Night” paints the poet as a visionary looking to understand the mystery of the world through a father and his daughter. The woman is a symbol of innocence, while the father is a representation of learning. Ultimately, this is a tribute to humanity.
Walt Whitman Poems for a Sibling’s Funeral
A sibling is a friend for life. Defining these relationships is sometimes challenging to do, but Walt Whitman fills in the gaps with his way with words.
11. "I Dream’d in a Dream"
Sometimes dreams show us what we really want in this world. In Whitman’s “I Dream’d in a Dream,” the world is explored as it might be. This is a dream of “the new city of Friends” and hope.
12. “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”
This long poem brings to life simple, ordinary experiences. Though we often only consider how things affect us, there’s a wide world beyond our backyards. Across the globe, we share a single togetherness.
13. “Song of the Open Road”
The calm nature of the poet comes through with each line of this poem. Unworried and carefree, this is a poem for robust optimism. Like a vagabond striking out in the world, this poem rejects tradition and charges forward toward the new.
14. “To One Shortly to Die”
Knowing that loss is close can cause some to shut down completely. For others, like the friend described in this poem, it’s a chance to smile and find strength. Whitman stays with them until the end.
15. "Starting From Paumanok"
This is both a poem and a manifesto. Through this poem, readers travel through the New World, exploring what it means to be a leading poet in America.
Walt Whitman Poems for a Partner or Spouse’s Funeral
Saying goodbye to a partner or spouse is like losing a part of yourself. Walt Whitman doesn’t shy away from intimidating topics like love and loss, even when saying goodbye feels impossible to do.
16. "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"
This poem shares a heart-wrenching story about a young boy who watches two mockingbirds nesting on a beach. One day, the mother bird doesn’t return to the nest, and the father bird mourns his loss.
17. “Out of the Rolling Ocean”
Though lesser-known than other works by Whitman, this poem is just as meaningful. The narrator describes the final words of their lover. The lover’s time is running out, but they’ll meet again one day.
18. “Sometimes With the One I Love”
Being in love is a gift, even if it’s short-lived. When love is given without asking anything in return, you have access to one of the world’s most powerful emotions.
19. “A Glimpse”
Written about the poet’s love for a young man, this is a conversational poem about the celebration of love. Though simple, the lines of this poem are beautiful: “There we two, content, happy in being together.”
20. "Scented Herbage of My Breast"
One of Whitman’s most celebrated love poems is “Scented Herbage of My Breast.” This is a poem about a beautiful love without any ulterior motives. Lyrical lines vibrate the deep emotion through each stanza.
Walt Whitman Poems for a Friend’s Funeral
Finally, these Walt Whitman poems help you say your final farewell to a beloved friend. Some friends feel more like family. It just goes to show that we’re in charge of who we let into our hearts.
21. "Me Imperturbe"
In “Me Imperturbe,” the speaker maintains his current state no matter what the world throws his way. Life is full of challenges, but we can still stay strong and positive.
22. “Beginning My Studies”
We can all relate to the joy of discovering something new. The poem “Beginning My Studies” is an ode to that excitement of recognizing that you have the power of knowledge, learning, and discovery.
23. “I Saw in Louisiana a Live Oak Growing”
The speaker in this poem discovered a live oak growing in Louisiana all alone. Though it has no companion, it’s still joyous and strong. This is the strength everyone needs after the loss of a friend.
24. “As If a Phantom Caress’d Me”
When we lose someone we love, it’s sometimes as if they’ve never left. This philosophical poem talks about loss and the realization that someone is no longer there.
25. "To a Stranger”
Finally, “To a Stranger” describes a rare meeting with a passing stranger. This is someone you feel you have a connection with from another life. Though you’ve never met before, you know you’ll meet again.
Uncover the Personal in Walt Whitman
Considered ahead of its time, Walt Whitman’s works were widely criticized during his lifetime. It wasn’t until other artists began to uncover the real beauty behind his words that they discovered the magic of his poetry. Encouraging others to deviate from traditional form, his work was inspired by real life, emotions, and connections.
If you’re planning a memorial service, using poetry readings can help capture challenging emotions. There’s no understating that Walt Whitman had a special way with words. Why not borrow from the expert himself to honor your loved one?
- “About Walt Whitman.” Walt Whitman, American Academy of Poets, 2021. Poets.org.