Readings for memorial services

Readings are listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name.

Copyright: To the best of my knowledge, all the material included here is either in the public domain, or is included as a fair use of copyrighted material (under 500 words, and less than half of a complete poem). For copyrighted material, I provide links to websites which have permission to post the material. If you are a copyright holder and want your material taken down, please email me.

Author backgrounds: Authors represent a variety of ethnicities and religious backgrounds, from several different centuries. Unitarian Universalist, or UU, authors are noted by [UU] after their names. (Ray Bradbury, though not a UU himself, attended UU churches at times; Rabindranath Tagore was part of the Brahmo Samaj movement, which had ties to the Unitarianism of its day.)

Where to start: If you’re overwhelmed with the number of readings, start by looking at these — “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred Tennyson; “When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou; “Forever” by Paul Laurence Dunbar; Ecclesiastes (“To everything…”); “They Are with Us Still” by Kathleen McTigue

What’s not here: Out of respect for author’s rights, I won’t link to readings that have been placed online without permission. Some well-known poets have not given permission for their poems to be placed on online — Mary Oliver is one example. I have not included May Sarton’s “All Souls,” because if I lead a memorial service I’ll include that poem anyway, in the meditation/prayer.

More readings: I recommend the printed book Beyond Absence compiled by Edmund Searl.

Songs and hymns: At the end of this post, I’ve included suggestions for hymns/songs that can be used in Unitarian Universalist (or nonreligious) memorial services. Click here to go to hymns and songs.

Updated 23 Sept. 2023. 70 readings or links to readings.

Inarticulate Grief

by Richard Aldington

Let the sea beat its thin torn hands
In anguish against the shore,
Let it moan
Between headland and cliff;
Let the sea shriek out its agony
Across waste sands and marshes,
And clutch great ships,
Tearing them plate from steel plate
In reckless anger;
Let it break the white bulwarks
Of harbor and city;
Let it sob and scream and laugh
In a sharp fury,
With white salt tears
Wet on its writhen face;
Ah! let the sea still be mad
And crash in madness among the shaking rocks —
For the sea is the cry of our sorrow.

When Great Trees Fall

by Maya Angelou

I recommend using athe portion of this poem that begins “And when great souls die, / after a period peace blooms…” — ending with “…We can be. Be and be / better. For they existed.”

Link to the full poem: When Great Trees Fall

from Transfiguration

by Louisa May Alcott [UU]

Mysterious death! who in a single hour
Life’s gold can so refine
And by thy art divine
Change mortal weakness to immortal power!

Bending beneath the weight of eighty years
Spent with the noble strife
of a victorious life
We watched her fading heavenward, through our tears.

But ere the sense of loss our hearts had wrung
A miracle was wrought;
And swift as happy thought
She lived again — brave, beautiful, and young.

Age, pain, and sorrow dropped the veils they wore
And showed the tender eyes
Of angels in disguise,
Whose discipline so patiently she bore.

The past years brought their harvest rich and fair;
While memory and love,
Together, fondly wove
A golden garland for the silver hair.

How could we mourn like those who are bereft,
When every pang of grief
found balm for its relief
In counting up the treasures she had left?

One Art

by Elizabeth Bishop

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master…”

Link to One Art

from Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so as long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.

What Loss Means

by David Breeden [UU]

“Just as the last leaves on branches…”

Link to What Loss Means

A Reminiscence

by Anne Bronte

Yes, thou art gone and never more
Thy sunny smile shall gladden me;
But I may pass the old church door
And pace the floor that covers thee;

May stand upon the cold, damp stone,
And think that frozen lies below
The lightest heart that I have known,
The kindest I shall ever know.

Yet, though I cannot see thee more
’Tis still a comfort to have seen,
And though thy transient life is o’er
’Tis sweet to think that thou hast been;

To think a soul so near divine,
Within a form so angel fair
United to a heart like thine
Has gladdened once our humble sphere.

O Sleep, My Babe

by Sara Coleridge

O sleep, my babe, hear not the rippling wave,
Nor feel the breeze that round thee lingering strays
To drink thy balmy breath,
And sigh one long farewell.

Soon shall it mourn above thy watery bed,
And whisper to me, on the wave-beat shore,
Deep murmuring in reproach,
Thy sad untimely fate.

Ere those dear eyes had opened on the light,
In vain to plead, thy coming life was sold,
O wakened but to sleep,
Whence it can wake no more!

A thousand and a thousand silken leaves
The tufted beech unfolds in early spring,
All clad in tenderest green,
All of the self-same shape:

A thousand infant faces, soft and sweet,
Each year sends forth, yet every mother views
Her last not least beloved
Like its dear self alone.

No musing mind hath ever yet fore-shaped
The face to-morrow’s sun shall first reveal,
No heart hath e’er conceived
What love that face will bring.

O sleep, my babe, nor heed how mourns the gale
To part with thy soft locks and fragrant breath,
As when it deeply sighs
O’er autumn’s latest bloom.


by Stephen Crane

Places among the stars,
Soft gardens near the sun,
Keep your distant beauty;
Shed no beams upon my weak heart.
Since she is here
In a place of blackness,
Not your golden days
Not your silver nights
Can call me to you.
Since she is here
In a place of blackness,
Here I stay and wait.

i carry your heart with me

by E. E. Cummings [UU]

“i carry your heart in me (i carry it in my heart)…”

Link to i carry your heart with me

Sharing Losses

Atena O. Danner

“Loss binds us together…”

Link to Sharing Losses

Because I could not stop for Death

by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
And Immortality.

We slowly drove — He knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility —

We passed the School, where Children strove
At recess — in the ring —
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain —
We passed the Setting Sun —

Or rather — He passed Us —
The Dews drew quivering and chill —
For only Gossamer, my Gown —
My Tippet — only Tulle —

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground —
The Roof was scarcely visible —
The Cornice — in the Ground —

Since then — ’tis centuries — and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity —

I felt a funeral in my Brain

by Emily Dickinson

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading — treading — till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through —

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum —
Kept beating — beating — till I thought
My Mind was going numb —

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space — began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here —

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down —
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing — then —

There’s a certain slant of light

by Emily Dickinson

There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
’Tis the seal, despair, —
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ’tis like the distance
On the look of death.

The Natural Order of Things

by Frank Carleton Doan [UU]

This death of the body, is it not in the natural order of things in the physical universe?

Behold the flowers of the field. They bloom for a brief season and then wither away. The birds of the air, they ascend for their last flight, then descend to fold their wings and find peace in their nest, even the peace of death. So, too, it is with the beasts of the forest. When their time is come, they seek out some quiet, secluded spot, make their last lair, and lay them down there to die; unafraid they, and unashamed….

What are we that we should think to escape this common destiny of all earthly things, or resent this final blow of fate called death?


by Paul Laurence Dunbar

I had not known before
Forever was so long a word.
The slow stroke of the clock of time
I had not heard.

Tis hard to learn so late;
It seems no sad heart really learns,
But hopes and trusts and doubts and fears,
And bleeds and burns.

The night is not all dark,
Nor is the day all it seems,
But each may bring me this relief —
My dreams and dreams.

I had not known before
That Never was so sad a word,
So wrap me in forgetfulness —
I have not heard.

The Right To Die

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

I have no fancy for that ancient cant
That makes us masters of our destinies,
And not our lives, to hold or give them up
As will directs; I cannot, will not think
That men, the subtle worms, who plot and plan
And scheme and calculate with such shrewd wit,
Are such great blund’ring fools as not to know
When they have lived enough.
Men court not death
When there are sweets still left in life to taste.
Nor will a brave man choose to live when he,
Full deeply drunk of life, has reached the dregs,
And knows that now but bitterness remains.
He is the coward who, outfaced in this,
Fears the false goblins of another life.
I honor him who being much harassed
Drinks of sweet courage until drunk of it,–
Then seizing Death, reluctant, by the hand,
Leaps with him, fearless, to eternal peace!

from the Book of Ecclesiastes

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to break down and a time to build up;
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek and a time to lose;
A time to keep and a time to cast away;
A time to rend and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence and a time to speak;
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven.

from The Firmament of Time

by Loren Eisley

Since the first human eye saw a leaf in Devonian sandstone and a puzzled finger reached to touch it, sadness has lain over the heart of man. By this tenuous thread of living protoplasm, stretching backward into time, we are linked forever to lost beaches whose sands have long since hardened into stone. The stars that caught our blind amphibian stare have shifted far or vanished in their courses, but still that naked, glistening thread winds onward. No one knows the secret of its beginning or its end. Its forms are phantoms. The thread alone is real; the thread is life.”

from Nominalist and Realist

by Ralph Waldo Emerson [UU]

It is the secret of the world that all things subsist, and do not die, but only retire a little from sight, and afterwards return again. Whatever does not concern us, is concealed from us. As soon as a person is no longer related to our present well-being, he is concealed, or dies, as we say. Really, all things and persons are related to us….

Nothing is dead: men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals and mournful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some new and strange disguise. Jesus is not dead: he is very well alive: nor John, nor Paul, nor Mahomet, nor Aristotle; at times we believe we have seen them all, and could easily tell the names under which they go.

from Good-Bye

by Ralph Waldo Emerson [UU]

Good-bye, proud world! I’m going home:
Thou art not my friend, and I’m not thine.
Long through thy weary crowds I roam;
A river-ark on the ocean brine,
Long I’ve been tossed like the driven foam;
But now, proud world! I’m going home….

I am going to my own hearth-stone,
Bosomed in yon green hills alone, —
A secret nook in a pleasant land,
Whose groves the frolic fairies planned;
Where arches green, the livelong day,
Echo the blackbird’s roundelay,
And vulgar feet have never trod
A spot that is sacred to thought and God….

from Give All to Love

by Ralph Waldo Emerson [UU]

’Tis a brave master;
Let it have scope:
Follow it utterly,
Hope beyond hope:
High and more high
It dives into noon,
With wing unspent,
Untold intent:
But it is a god,
Knows its own path
And the outlets of the sky.

It was never for the mean;
It requireth courage stout.
Souls above doubt,
Valor unbending,
It will reward, —
They shall return
More than they were,
And ever ascending….

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.


by Robert Frost

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

A Blessing for Grief

by Katie Sivani Gelfand [UU]

“May you be tender and gentle with yourself…”

Link to A Blessing for Grief

On Joy and Sorrow

by Kahlil Gibran

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the self-same well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

from The Prophet

by Kahlil Gibran

You would know the secret of death….
Life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one….
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim all your limbs, then you shall truly dance.

A Journey

by Nikki Giovanni

“It’s a journey…that I propose…I am not the guide…”

Link to A Journey

Portrait of a Father After His Son’s Memorial Service

by Rigoberto Gonzalez

“There’s a man who sits on a bench…”

Link to Portrait of a Father after His Son’s Memorial Service

Ritual for Ash

by Cindy Williams Gutierez

“We will smudge our shoulder blades with wings of ash…”

Link to Ritual for Ash


by Thich Nhat Hanh

“Death comes with his impressive scytheand says, ‘You should not be afraid of me’…”

Link to Bhumisphara


by Thich Nhat Hanh

“The moment I die I will come back to you…”

Link to Onenness — scroll down

For Keeps

by Joy Harjo

“…I lean into the rhythm of your heart to see where it will take us…”

Link to For Keeps

We’ll Go No More a-Roving

by William Ernest Henley

We’ll go no more a-roving by the light of the moon.
November glooms are barren beside the dusk of June.
The summer flowers are faded, the summer thoughts are sere.
We’ll go no more a-roving, lest worse befall, my dear.

We’ll go no more a-roving by the light of the moon.
The song we sang rings hollow, and heavy runs the tune.
Glad ways and words remembered would shame the wretched year.
We’ll go no more a-roving, nor dream we did, my dear.

We’ll go no more a-roving by the light of the moon.
If yet we walk together, we need not shun the moon.
No sweet thing left to savour, no sad thing left to fear,
We’ll go no more a-roving, but weep at home, my dear.

All Thing Decay with Time

by Robert Herrick

All things decay with time: The forest sees
The growth and down-fall of her aged trees;
That timber tall, which three-score lustres stood
The proud dictator of the state-like wood,
I mean the sovereign of all plants, the oak,
Droops, dies, and falls without the cleaver’s stroke.

How great unto the living seem the dead!

by Charles Heavysege

How great unto the living seem the dead!
How sacred, solemn; how heroic grown;
How vast and vague, as they obscurely tread
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.

What the Living Do

by Marie Howe

“…I am living. I remember you.”

Link to What the Living Do

Dear Lovely Death

by Langston Hughes

Dear lovely Death
That taketh all things under wing —
Never to kill —
Only to change
Into some other thing
This suffering flesh,
To make it either more or less,
But not again the same —
Dear lovely Death,
Change is thy other name.

To a Dead Friend

by Langston Hughes

The moon still sends its mellow light
Through the purple blackness of the night;
The morning star is palely bright
Before the dawn.

The sun still shines just as before;
The rose still grows beside my door,
But you have gone.

The sky is blue and the robin sings;
The butterflies dance on rainbow wings
Though I am sad.

In all the earth no joy can be;
Happiness comes no more to me,
For you are dead.

The Blue Dress

by Saeed Jones

“Her blue dress is a silk train, is a river…”

Link to The Blue Dress

On My First Son

by Ben Jonson — death of a child

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy.
Seven years tho’ wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I lose all father now! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon escaped world’s and flesh’s rage,
And if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, “Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.”
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.

Where the Sky Meets the Earth

W. Todd Kaneko

“A man can’t die where there is no earth…”

Link to Where the Sky Meets the Earth

Honoring a Difficult Death

by Maureen Killoran [UU]

“Open your hearts, my friends…”

Link to Honoring a Difficult Death

Your Clothes

by Judith Kroll

“…as we will always be daughters without you.”

Link to Your Clothes


by Winifred M. Letts

In losing you I lost my sun and moon
And all the stars that blessed my lonely night.
I lost the hope of Spring, the joy of June,
The Autumn’s peace, the Winter’s firelight.
I lost the zest of living, the sweet sense
Expectant of your step, your smile, your kiss;
I lost all hope and fear and keen suspense
For this cold calm, sans agony, sans bliss.
I lost the rainbow’s gold, the silver key
That gave me freedom of my town of dreams;
I lost the path that leads to Faerie
By beechen glades and heron-haunted streams.
I lost the master word, dear love, the clue
That threads the maze of life when I lost you.

from A Psalm of Life

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow [UU]

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day….

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again….


by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow [UU]

As a fond mother, when the day is o’er,
Leads by the hand her little child to bed,
Half willing, half reluctant to be led,
And leave his broken playthings on the floor,

Still gazing at them through the open door,
Nor wholly reassured and comforted
By promises of others in their stead,
Which, though more splendid, may not please him more;

So Nature deals with us, and takes away
Our playthings one by one, and by the hand
Leads us to rest so gently, that we go

Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay,
Being too full of sleep to understand
How far the unknown transcends the what we know.

The First Snow-fall

by James Russell Lowell [UU] — death of a child

The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.

Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.

From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow,
The stiff rails were softened to swan’s-down,
And still fluttered down the snow.

I stood and watched by the window
The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
Like brown leaves whirling by.

I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood.

Up spoke our own little Mabel,
Saying, “Father, who makes it snow?”
And I told of the good All-father
Who cares for us here below.

Again I looked at the snow-fall,
And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o’er our first great sorrow,
When that mound was heaped so high.

I remembered the gradual patience
That fell from that cloud-like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
The scar of our deep-plunged woe.

And again to the child I whispered,
“The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
Alone can make it fall!”

Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
Folded close under deepening snow.

They Are with Us Still

by Kathleen McTigue [UU]

“In the struggles we choose for ourselves…”

Link to They Are with Us Still


by W. S. Merwin

“Your absence has gone through me…”

Link to Separation


by Meghan O’Rourke

“Even now I can’t grasp ‘nothing’ or ‘never’…”

Link to Ever

from The Apology of Socrates

by Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett

Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good; for one of two things — either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as people say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another.

First, if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of one who is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. For if a person were to select the night in which their sleep was undisturbed even by dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights of their life, and then were to say what day or night they had passed more pleasantly than this one, I think that any one will not find many such days or nights. Now if death like this, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night.

But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as people say, all the dead abide, what can be greater than this? What would person would not want to converse Orpheus and Homer and all the great people of the past? … What infinite delight would there be in talking with them and asking them questions! And besides being happier than we are now, they will be immortal, if what is said is true.

Wherefore, my friends, be of good cheer about death….

When I am dead, my dearest

by Christina Rossetti

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

from The Little Prince

by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“People have stars, but they aren’t the same. For travelers, the stars are guides. For other people, they’re nothing but tiny lights. And for still others, for scholars, they’re problems. For a businessman, they were gold. But all those stars are silent stars. You, though, you’ll have stars like nobody else” [said the Little Prince].

“What do you mean?”

“When you look up at the sky at night, since I’ll be living on one of them, since I’ll be laughing on one of them, for you it’ll be as if all the stars are laughing. You’ll have stars that can laugh!”

And he laughed again.

“And when you’re consoled (everyone is eventually consoled), you’ll be glad you’ve known me. You’ll always be my friend. You’ll feel like laughing with me. And you’ll open your windows sometimes just for the fun of it … And your friends will be amazed to see you laughing while you’re looking up at the sky. Then you’ll tell them, ‘Yes, it’s the stars; they always make me laugh!’”

from To W. P.

by George Santayana

…With you a part of me hath passed away;
For in the peopled forest of my mind
A tree made leafless by this wintry wind
Shall never don again its green array.
Chapel and fireside, country road and bay,
Have something of their friendliness resigned;
Another, if I would, I could not find,
And I am grown much older in a day.
But yet I treasure in my memory
Your gift of charity, your mellow ease,
And the dear honor of your amity;
For these once mine, my life is rich with these.
And I scarce know which part may greater be, —
What I keep of you, or you rob of me….

Like as the waves

by William Shakespeare

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.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

by William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Although the Wind

by Izumi Shibuki

“Although the wind / blows terribly here…”

Link to Although the Wind translated by Jane Hirschfield

The Truly Great

by Stephen Spender

“I think of those who were truly great…”

Link to The Truly Great

from Consolation

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Though he, that ever kind and true,
Kept stoutly step by step with you,
Your whole long, gusty lifetime through,
Be gone a while before,
Be now a moment gone before,
Yet, doubt not, soon the seasons shall restore
Your friend to you….

He is not dead, this friend — not dead,
But in the path we mortals tread
Got some few, trifling steps ahead
And nearer to the end….

from Farewell My Friend

by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by K. R. Kripalani

Whirled far away by the ruthless car of Time,
(Can you hear, O friend, the thunderous wheels in the dark?)
I lie today on the peak of an alien dawn.
The thing I was is lost in a thousand deaths,
The speed-born wind its knell.
And could you see, you would not know me now.
My friend, farewell.

When the blossom sheds its petalled tears in Spring,
One day, maybe, you will turn to the fading past.
And find there a flickering shadow of light — a dream ?
Not dream but Truth, but Love death-conquering,
Thy gift unchangeable
Though the changeful tides of time may bear me far —
My friend, farewell.

No loss is yours. From my passionate mortal clay
Shape, if you will, a goddess to fill your shrine.
My gross touch shall not sully, nor hot tears
Outrage the flowers of worship, evermore.
Grieve not, with me ‘tis well.
My cup of life unbroken shall yet he filled.
My friend, farewell.

from Sadhana, the Realization of Life

by Rabindranath Tagore

Life as a whole never takes death seriously. It laughs, dances and plays, it builds, hoards and loves in death’s face. Only when we detach one individual fact of death do we see its blankness and become dismayed. We lose sight of the wholeness of a life of which death is part. It is like looking at a piece of cloth through a microscope. It appears like a net; we gaze at the big holes and shiver in imagination. But the truth is, death is not the ultimate reality. It looks black, as the sky looks blue; but it does not blacken existence, just as the sky does not leave its stain upon the wings of the bird.


by Sara Teasdale

I lift my heart as spring lifts up
⁠A yellow daisy to the rain;
My heart will be a lovely cup
⁠Altho’ it holds but pain.

For I shall learn from flower and leaf
⁠That color every drop they hold,
To change the lifeless wine of grief
⁠To living gold.

Crossing the Bar

by Alfred Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

by Dylan Thomas

“Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rave at close of day…”

Link to Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

by Henry David Thoreau [UU]

Even the death of friends will inspire us as much as their lives. They will leave consolation to the mourners, as the rich leave money to defray the expenses of their funerals, and their memories will be incrusted over with sublime and pleasing thoughts, as monuments of other men are overgrown with moss; for our Friends have no place in the graveyard.

Roads Go Ever Ever On

by J. R. R. Tolkien

“The Road goes ever on and on / Down from the door where it began….”

Link to Roads Go Ever Ever On

Warm Summer Sun

by Mark Twain

Warm summer sun,
Shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind,
Blow softly here.
Green sod above,
Lie light, lie light.
Good night, dear heart,
Good night, good night.


by William Wordsworth

This is the spot: — how mildly does the sun
Shine in between the fading leaves! the air
In the habitual silence of this wood
Is more than silent: and this bed of heath,
Where shall we find so sweet a resting-place?
Come! — let me see thee sink into a dream
Of quiet thoughts, — protracted till thine eye
Be calm as water when the winds are gone
And no one can tell whither — my sweet friend!
We two have had such happy hours together
That my heart melts in me to think of it.


by Kevin Young

“To allow silence / To admit it in us…”

Link to Eulogy

Songs and hymns for UU memorial services

Here are some possibilities for songs and hymns for Unitarian Universalist (and for nonreligious) memorial services.

Note that many families choose a hymn that was a favorite of the deceased person. Other families deliberately choose hymns and songs that are celebratory rather than songs and hymns about death.

Numbers in parentheses refer to hymns and songs in the two current Unitarian Universalist hymnals. I have given one verse of each song or hymn to give a flavor of the whole.

Abide with Me (101)

Words by Henry Francis Lyte
(suggested in the UU hymnal — especially suitable for more traditional memorial services)

1. Abide with me, fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens, still with me abide.
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Youtube video

All My Memories of Love (336)

Words by Anna Akhmatova, trans. Mark Belletini
(suggested in the UU hymnal)

1. All my memories of love hang upon high stars.
All the souls I’ve lost to tears no the autumn jars,
And the air around me here thickens with their song;
Sing again their nameless tunes, sing again, and strong.

Youtube video

Amazing Grace (205)

Words by John Newton

1. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch [soul] like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Youtube video

Blue Boat Home (1064)

Words by Peter Mayer
(chosen frequently by UU families for memorial services)

1. Though below me I feel no ocean
Standing on these mountains and plains.
Far away from the rolling ocean
Still my dry-land heart can say:
I’ve been sailing all my life now
Never harbor or port have I known,
The wide universe is the ocean I travel,
And the earth is my blue boat home.

Peter Mayer’s performance on Youtube
Another Youtube video, but with lyrics

Bright Morning Stars Are Rising (357)

Folk hymn
(suggested by the UU hymnal)

Bright morning stars are rising
Day is a-breaking in my soul

Youtube video

For the Beauty of the Earth (21)

Words by F. S. Pierpoint, adapted for UU services
(chosen by more than one UU family for memorial services)

For the beauty of the earth
For the splendor of the skies
For the love which from our birth
Overand around us lies
Source of all, to thee we raise
This, our song of grateful praise.

Youtube video with lyrics

How Can I Keep from Singing

This well-known song is not in current UU hymnals, but was in the 1976 hymnal “How Can I Keep from Singing.” The last verse may be left off, or it may be used for people who were social justice activists.

1. My life flows on in endless song
Above Earth’s lamentation
I catch the sweet, though far off hymn
That hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing
It sounds an echo in my soul,
How can I keep from singing?

Click for copyright free sheet music

Youtube video

I Am That Great and Fiery Force (27)

Words by Hildegard of Bingen
(suggested in the UU hymnal)

1. I am that great and fiery force
Sparkling in everything that lives;
In shining of the river’s course,
In greening grass that glory gives.

Youtube video

I Cannot Think of Them as Dead (96)

Words by Frederick Lucian Hosmer [UU]
(suggested in the UU hymnal)

1. I cannot think of them as dead
Who walk with me no more;
Along the path of life I tread
They are but gone before.

Youtube video with lyrics

Let Hope and Sorrow Now Unite (412)

Words by Brian Wren
(suggested in the UU hymnal)

1. Let hope and sorrow now unite
To consecrate life’s ending.
And praise good friends now gone from sight
Though grief and loss are rending.
The story in a well-loved face,
The years and days our thoughts retrace,
Are treasures worth repeating.

Youtube video with lyrics

Morning Has Broken (38)

Words by Eleanor Farjeon, adapted for UU services
(chosen by some UU families who want a more celebratory memorial service)

1. Morning has broken
Like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird
Praise for the singing!
Praise for the morning!
Praise for them, springing
Fresh from the Word!

Youtube video with lyrics

Part in Peace (411)

Words by Sarah Flower Adams [UU]
(suggested in the UU hymnal)

1. Part in peace! the day before us.
Praises sing for life and light.
Are the shadows lengthening o’er us?
Bless thy care who guards the night.

Click for copyright free sheet music

There Is More Love Somewhere (95)

African American folk hymn

1. There is more love somewhere
I’m going to keep on till I find it
There is more love somewhere

Youtube video

Turn Turn Turn

Adapted from Eccleisastes by Pete Seeger [UU]
(this is the song most frequently chosen by UU families for memorial services)

This well-known song is not in current UU hymnals, but was in the 1976 UU songbook “How Can I Keep from Singing.”

To everything, turn, turn, turn,
There is a season, turn, turn, turn,
And a time for every purpose under heaven….

Youtube video with Judy Collins and Pete Seeger