Non-religious funeral readings
What is a funeral reading?
Funeral readings offer us a way to express our feelings about the loss of a loved one. They are read during funerals, memorial services, and other celebrations to honour the deceased, evoke memories and offer comfort to those who are mourning.
Funeral readings come in a wide variety of forms, lengths and formats, and can range from religious readings and poetry all the way to song lyrics and even jokes. Readings don't necessarily have to reflect the person or what they did in their life, and instead are often meaningful and provide an opportunity for mourners to look back and think about the person.
We’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions about funeral readings and listed a number of popular non-religious funeral readings below, including:
Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden
Do not stand at my grave and weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye
Roads Go Ever On by J.R.R. Tolkien
She (or He) is Gone by David Harkins
Let Me Go by Christina Rosetti
Requiem, Robert Louis Stevenson
Can I write my own funeral reading?
It's absolutely fine to write your own funeral reading if you'd like to. Just remember, the eulogy is best reserved for stories relating to the person and their life – so it is best to stick to words that offer some sort of comfort and empathy rather than anecdotes when it comes to writing your own reading for a funeral.
Who can read at a funeral, and can there be more than one reading?
Anyone can read a passage at a funeral, although, whoever is responsible for arranging the funeral will normally decide who they would like to do a reading as part of the order of service.
If there are multiple family members or friends who would like to say something, then it's perfectly acceptable to have several shorter funeral readings rather than one long funeral reading. If you've found the perfect reading but it's on the longer side, then you can always get readers to recite alternate verses to break up the reading amongst the group.
How long should a funeral reading be?
Readings can be as short or long as you want them to be. The most common reading duration is 1-2 minutes; anything over 5 minutes may be considered a long reading. If you are unsure how long your chosen reading is, set a timer on your phone or a stopwatch and read out the poem or passage.
The important thing is not the length of the reading but saying something that provides meaning and reflection to those listening.
Popular non-religious funeral readings
Here are some popular non-religious readings for a funeral:
Funeral Blues, W.H. Auden
‘Funeral Blues’ or ‘Stop all the Clocks’ was penned by Auden in 1936 originally as a piece of satire about the mourning of a political leader for the play ‘Ascent of F6’, but over time has become one of the most popular funeral readings thanks to the meaningful, deliberate and clear themes and metaphors throughout. This popular funeral poem appeared in the film “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”
It’s one of the best funeral poems for those looking for clever writing and metaphors that will make the audience think about what is being said.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Do not stand at my grave and weep, Mary Elizabeth Frye
Although it remained unpublished during her life, Mary Elizabeth Frye’s funeral poem came about after a German Jewish named Margaret Schwarzkopf was staying with Frye and her husband told them that her mother was gravely ill at home in Germany. Schwarzkopf feared returning to Germany (the poem was written in 1932), and ultimately her mother died with her unable to either see her one last time or attend the funeral.
After mentioning that she never had the chance to ‘stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear’, Frye jotted down the line on a brown paper bag then pieced out the full poem, expressing her thoughts on life and death.
Written in flowing, rhyming prose, the piece features comforting imagery and a thoughtful ending that alludes to dying not necessarily being the end. This is one of the most comforting funeral poems.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Roads Go Ever On, J.R.R. Tolkien
As one of the most popular funeral readings from literature, you may recognise Tolkien as the writer of fantasy books including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which have been turned into famous films. Tolkien’s books are packed with small poems and verses, with Roads Go Ever On being one of the more poignant passages spoken by Bilbo Baggins at numerous points throughout the series.
The poem mentions the fact that roads continue in an everlasting journey, with many obstacles and sights along the way, as well as choices that need to be made. This could be an allegory for life, and a statement that death is just another of these stops on the never-ending road.
Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.
Roads go ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.
She (or He) is Gone, David Harkins
This short, four-line verse by David Harkins was read at the funeral of the Queen Mother and is a good choice for one of several readings thanks to its conciseness. Alternatively, if you have someone who is a nervous speaker or is finding it difficult to cope with the funeral, then its short length could be a good solution.
You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
Let Me Go, Christina Rosetti
The poignant lines within Let Me Go are a good reminder that no matter how difficult it is to say goodbye to someone, or how well you know or loved them, every one of us will go through the same journey at some point. This is a great reminder that no matter how alone or lost a person is feeling as they grieve, there are others who know what they are going through, and that there will eventually be some closure. The poem is read from the perspective of the deceased person, which makes it even more thought-provoking.
When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little, but not for long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.
For this is a journey we all must take
And each must go alone.
It's all part of the master plan
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.
Requiem, Robert Louis Stevenson
Despite being written fourteen years before his death, this poem is inscribed on the author’s gravestone. Robert Louis Stevenson was a famous atheist, making the poem a popular choice of non-religious funeral reading. This short funeral poem is about being at peace at the end of life and being laid to rest.
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
If you are struggling to find a suitable reading for your loved one’s funeral, then another idea is to step away from poetry and verse and look outside the box. Songs, movies and books are packed with excellent verses and passages to read at a funeral. If the person had a favourite song, then lyrics could be spoken rather than sang.
Uplifting funeral readings
It’s also worth noting that funeral readings don’t always have to be sombre in tone. Many people would prefer their funeral to be a light-hearted occasion that is about remembrance rather than mourning.
Uplifting funeral readings include:
- Remember Me by Margaret Mead
- If I Should Go by Joyce Grenfell
- Farewell My Friends by Rabindranath Tagore
- Death Is Nothing At All by Canon Henry Scott-Holland
Uplifting funeral readings can also be found in the work of Spike Milligan, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling or Roald Dahl, which may be more fitting.
Bible readings for funerals
For those of the Christian faith, bible readings are often an important part of a funeral service. While religious readings have always been part of a traditional Christian funeral, many services held in non-religious funeral venues also use funeral bible readings as part of the service.
If you’d like to include a religious reading if your loved one’s funeral service, read our list of popular bible readings for funerals.