From universal elegies to poems that address the particular anguishes of losing a parent, child, friend, or spouse, these poets try to make meaning out of inexpressible grief.
I. GENERAL POEMS FOR SERVICES AND MEMORIALS
Mourning and Memory
“Requiescat” by Matthew Arnold
Her life was turning, turning,
In mazes of heat and sound.
But for peace her soul was yearning,
And now peace laps her round.
“Epitaph for a Romantic Woman” by Louise Bogan
She has attained the permanence
She dreamed of, where old stones lie sunning.
“Dirge Without Music” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
“And Death Shall Have No Dominion” by Dylan Thomas
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
“Little Elegy” by Elinor Wylie
No rose can grow;
Coping with Loss
“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
“Separation” by W.S. Merwin
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
“Although the wind ...” by Izumi Shikibu
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
“The Man Moves Earth” by Cathy Song
In proportion to what is taken
what is given multiplies—
Voices from Beyond
“Remember” by Christina Rossetti
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
“I Dwell in Possibility – (466)” by Emily Dickinson
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
“Sonnet LXXI: No Longer Mourn for me when I am Dead” by William Shakespeare
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay,
“Good-Bye” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Good-bye, proud world! I’m going home.
II. POEMS FOR SPECIFIC RELATIONSHIPS
Early and Tragic Death
“You Were You Are Elegy” by Mary Jo Bang
The sitting. The thinking
Of you where you are a blank
To be filled
In by missing. I loved you.
“Wokiksuye” by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
The hair falls
the spirit goes,
the will is
connected no more.
“If It Should Ever Come” by Edward Dorn
You didn’t know you were at the end
thought it was your bright pear
the earth, yes
“Small Elegy” by Reginald Gibbons
Someone has left us now
before we have even touched hands.
“Young Man” by John Haines
I seemed always standing
before a door
to which I had no key,
“Three Years She Grew” by William Wordsworth
And hers shall be the breathing balm,
And hers the silence and the calm
Of mute insensate things.
Passing of a Parent
“Kaddish” by Allen Ginsberg
blessed daughter come to America, I long to hear your voice again, remembering
your mother’s music, in the Song of the Natural Front—
O glorious muse that bore me from the womb, gave suck first mystic life & taught
me talk and music, from whose pained head I first took Vision—
“Your Clothes” by Judith Kroll
they will always be your clothes without you,
as we will always be your daughters without you.
“Little Father” by Li-Young Lee
I buried my father in my heart.
Now he grows in me, my strange son,
“The Truth the Dead Know” by Anne Sexton
Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
“Feel Me” by May Swenson
We cannot feel our father now. His power courses through us,
yes, but he—the chest and cheek, the foot and palm,
the mouth of oracle—is calm. And we still seek
Losing a Friend
“How It Is” by Maxine W. Kumin
I think of the last day of your life,
old friend, how I would unwind it,
“To W.P.” by George Santayana
But yet I treasure in my memory
Your gift of charity, your mellow ease,
And the dear honour of your amity;
“Consolation” by Robert Louis Stevenson
He is not dead, this friend — not dead,
But in the path we mortals tread
Got some few, trifling steps ahead
“Elegy on Toy Piano” by Dean Young
Necessary it is to live to love,
to charge into the burning tower
then charge back out
and necessary it is to die.
Saying Goodbye to Spouses and Lovers
from “Beautiful Boyfriend” by Marilyn Chin
Down the Irrawaddy River you lay yourself to sleep
No sun no moon no coming no going
“At Night the States” by Alice Notley
Oh being alone I call out my
and once you did and do still in
“The Widow’s Lament in Springtime” by William Carlos Williams
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers