Poems Regarding Death and Dying

As something we all have or will face in multiple ways through the passing of friends and loved ones as well as our own inevitable demise, death is a very controversial and often taboo topic that many think about, but prefer not to discuss. These poems touch on the subject in various ways through differing perspectives. I will add more to this page over time so check back often or follow me on pinterest.

Joy  Sleep  Wilde  Dead  Mary  Grief  Arnold  Waves  Done  Death  Remembrance  Ways

Surprised by Joy

Surprised by Joy

Surprised by joy - impatient as the wind

I turned to share the transport - Oh! with whom

But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,

That spot which no vicissitude can find?

Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind -

But how could I forget thee? Through what power,

Even for the least division of an hour.

Have I been so beguiled as to be blind

To my most grievous loss? - That thought's return

Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore

Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,

Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;

That neither present time, nor years unborn,

Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

-William Wordsworth

We Too Shall Sleep

We Too Shall Sleep

Not, not for thee,

Beloved child, the burning grasp of life

Shall bruise the tender soul. The noise, and strife,

And clamor of midday thou shalt not see;

But wrapped for ever in thy quiet grave,

Too little to have known the earthly lot.

Time's clashing hosts above thine innocent head,

Wave upon wave,

Shall break, or pass as with an army's tread,

And harm thee not.

A few short years

We of the living flesh and restless brain

Shall plumb the deeps of life and know the strain,

The fleeting gleams of joy, the fruitless tears;

And then at last when all is touched and tried,

Our own immutable night shall fall, and deep

In the same silent plot, O little friend,

Side by thy side,

In peace that changeth not, nor knoweth end,

We too shall sleep.

-Archibald Lampman

Requiescat by Oscar Wilde


Tread lightly, she is near

Under the snow,

Speak gently, she can hear

The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair

Tarnished with rust,

She that was young and fair

Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,

She hardly knew

She was a woman, so

Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,

Lie on her breast,

I vex my heart alone,

She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear

Lyre or sonnet,

All my life's buried here,

Heap earth upon it.

-Oscar Wilde

The Dead

The Dead

How great unto the living seem the dead!

How sacred, solemn; how heroic grown;

How vast and vague, as they obscurely read

The shadowy confines of the dim unknown! -

For they have met the monster that we dread,

Have learned the secret not to mortal shown.

E'en as gigantic shadows on the wall

The spirit of the daunted child amaze,

So on us thoughts of the departed fall,

And with phantasma fill our gloomy gaze.

Awe and deep wonder lend the living lines,

And hope and ecstasy the borrowed beams;

While fitful fancy the full form divines,

And all is what imagination dreams.

-Charles Heavysege

To Mary: It is the Evening Hour

To Mary: It is the Evening Hour

It is the evening hour,

How silent all doth lie,

The horned moon he shows his face

In the river with the sky.

Just by the path on which we pass,

The flaggy lake lies still as glass.

Spirit of her I love,

Whispering to me,

Stories of sweet visions, as I rove,

Here stop, and crop with me

Sweet flowers that in the still hour grew,

We'll take them home, nor shake off the bright dew.

Mary, or sweet spirit of thee,

As the bright sun shines tomorrow.

Thy dark eyes these flowers shall see,

Gathered by me in sorrow.

In the still hour when my mind was free

To walk alone - yet wish I walked with thee.

-John Clare



I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;

That only men incredulous of despair,

Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air

Beat upward to God's throne in loud access

Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,

In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare

Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare

Of the absolute Heavens. Deep-hearted man, express

Grief for thy Dead in silence like to death -

Most like a monumental statue set

In everlasting watch and moveless woe

Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.

Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:

If it could weep, it could arise and go.

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Requiescat by Matthew Arnold


Strew on her roses, roses,

And never a spray of yew!

In quiet she reposes;

Ah, would that I did too!

Her mirth the world required;

She bathed in it smiles of glee.

But her heart was tired, tired,

And now they let her be.

Her life was turning, turning,

In mazes of heat and sound.

But for peace her soul was yearning,

And now peace laps her round.

Her cabin'd, ample spirit,

It flutter'd and fail'd for breath.

To-night it doth inherit

The vasty hall of death.

-Matthew Arnold

Like as the Waves Make Towards the Pebbl'd Shore

Like as the Waves Make Towards the Pebbl'd Shore

Like as the waves make towards the pebbl'd shore,

So do our minutes hasten to their end;

Each changing place with that which goes before,

In sequent toil all forwards do contend.

Nativity, once in the main of light,

Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,

Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,

And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.

Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth

And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,

Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,

And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:

And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,

Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

-William Shakespeare

When All is Done

When All is Done

When all is done, and my last word is said,

And ye who loved me murmur, 'He is dead,'

Let no one weep, for fear that I should know,

And sorrow too that ye should sorrow so.

When all is done and in the oozing clay,

Ye lay this cast-off hull of mine away,

Pray not for me, for, after long despair,

The quiet of the grave will be a prayer.

For I have suffered loss and grievous pain,

The hurts of hatred and the world's disdain,

And wounds so deep that love, well-tried and pure,

Had not the pow'r to ease them or to cure.

When all is done, say not my day is o'er,

And that thro' night I seek a dimmer shore:

Say rather that my morn has just begun, -

I greet the dawn and not a setting sun,

When all is done.

-Paul Laurence Dunbar

I have a Rendezvous with Death

I have a Rendezvous with Death

I have a rendezvous with Death

At some disputed barricade,

When Spring comes back with rustling shade

And apple-blossoms fill the air -

I have a rendezvous with Death

When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand

And lead me into his dark land

And close my eyes and quench my breath -

It may be I shall pass him still.

I have a rendezvous with Death

On some scarred slope of battered hill,

When Spring comes round again this year

And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep

Pillowed in silk and scented down,

Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,

Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,

Where hushed awakenings are dear...

But I've a rendezvous with Death

At midnight in some flaming town,

When Spring trips north again this year,

And I to my pledged word am true,

I shall not fail that rendezvous.

-Alan Seeger



Cold in the earth - and the deep snow piled above thee,

Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!

Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,

Severed at last by Time's all-wearing wave?

Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover

Over the mountains, on that northern shore,

Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover

Thy noble heart for ever, ever more?

Cold in the earth - and fifteen wild Decembers,

From those brown hills, have melted into spring:

Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers

After such years of change and suffering!

Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,

While the world's tide is bearing me along;

Sterner desires and darker hopes beset me,

Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!

No other sun has lightened up my heaven,

No other star has ever shone for me;

All my life's bliss from thy dear life was given,

All my life's bliss is in the grave with thee.

But, when the days of golden dreams had perished,

And even Despair was powerless to destroy;

Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,

Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.

Then did I check the tears of useless passion -

Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;

Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten

Down to that tomb already more than mine.

And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,

Dare not indulge in memory's rapturous pain;

Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,

How could I seek the empty world again?

-Emily Bronte

She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways

She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways

She dwelt among the untrodden ways

Beside the springs of Dove,

A Maid whom there were none to praise

And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy tone

Half hidden from the eye!

- Fair as a star, when only one

Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know

When Lucy ceased to be;

But she is in her grave, and, oh,

The difference to me!

-William Wordsworth

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