Popular funeral readings
What is a funeral reading?
Depending on the type of funeral that you're planning or attending, it's likely that some sort of words will be spoken by the person leading the funeral, a family member, or someone else who knew the person who has passed away, taking the form of a reading.
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.
Can I write my own funeral reading?
It's absolutely fine to come up with some original words or write some poetry if you're a budding writer. Just remember, if you're writing about the person or their life, that the eulogy is best reserved for in-depth words and stories relating to the person - stick to words that offer some sort of comfort and empathy rather than anecdotes when it comes to funeral readings.
Can there be more than one funeral reading?
If you've got multiple family members or friends who would like to say something, then it's 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 or break up the reading amongst the group.
Do funeral readings have to be religious?
A funeral reading does not have to be religious. It's best to check with your place of worship or your religious leader to see what the recommendations are, but many faiths are open about what kind of readings can take place at a funeral. If the person’s funeral is taking place at a non-religious facility or isn’t following any sort of structure from a religious point of view, then you won’t need to worry about the content being religious.
Who can read at a funeral?
Anyone is welcome to read at a funeral. Although a religious leader, minister or officiant may end up doing most of the speaking throughout the ceremony (unless you opt for a Simplicity attended funeral, which means anyone can conduct or lead the funeral ceremony), it's common for a relative, friend or loved one to read a few words. Readings can offer consolation, empathy, comfort and remembrance, but there aren't any limits on the content or who does the reading.
How long should a funeral reading be?
As with any public speaking, getting the timing right is important. Readings can be as short or long as you want them to be, but opting for a short reading may mean the opportunity to say some meaningful words gets lost, whereas going for a much longer reading could leave mourners getting lost in a sea of words. If in doubt, set a timer on your phone or a stopwatch, read out the poem or passage and check how long it takes.
There are no strict rules, but anything over 5 minutes could be considered a long reading. The most common reading durations are 1-2 minutes, but if it goes over this, you should not worry – the important thing is saying something that provides meaning and reflection to those listening.
Popular non-religious funeral readings
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 a very popular funeral reading thanks to the meaningful, deliberate and clear themes and metaphors throughout. It’s a good choice for those looking for clever writing and metaphors that will make the audience think about what is being said.
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 was the situation as dire (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.
Roads Go Ever On, J.R.R. Tolkien
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. What you may not know is that the 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.
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.
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, each and 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.
If you’re still contemplating which reading to go for, or can’t find something suitable, 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, quotes and passages that could easily become a funeral reading. If the person had a favourite song, then lyrics could be spoken rather than sang.
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. In which case, an uplifting funeral reading such as poetry by Spike Milligan, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling or Roald Dahl may be more fitting.
Don't forget that you can always ask for help and advice, as well as support with the loss of a loved one, through our grief helpline.