Many people turn to poetry in times of distress and grief. There is a profound realness to poetry that can comfort and soothe, whether it’s by reflecting the rawness within or reminding us of beauty and hope. Poetry isn’t music or prayer, but it’s closely related to both. Like many people in the throes of grief, you may be turning to poetry to help you walk through the deep grief of losing a beloved person in your life. Poetry is also an appropriate and helpful way to speak over spreading the ashes of a loved one, especially if the one who passed wasn’t religious. Poetry can speak the language of grief, and of hope, which is why we’ll be going over poems for spreading ashes while you lay your loved one to rest in nature.
Into the Freedom by Ruth Burgess
This is one of the best poems for scattering ashes.
Into the freedom of wind and sunshine
We let you go
Into the dance of the stars and the planets
We let you go
Into the wind’s breath and the hands of the star maker
We let you go
We love you, we miss you, we want you to be happy
Go safely, go dancing, go running home
The Sunflowers by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver is a masterful poet and has written many poems for spreading ashes.
Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines
creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky
sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy
but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young –
the important weather,
the wandering crows.
Don’t be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,
which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds –
each one a new life!
hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,
is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come
and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.
Evidence by Mary Oliver
This poem is about eternal joy, even in the face of profound loss.
“May I never not be frisky,
May I never not be risqué.
May my ashes, when you have them, friend,
and give them to the ocean,
leap in the froth of the waves,
still loving movement,
still ready, beyond all else,
to dance for all the world.”
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
This poem helps express and cut through the loneliness that comes with grief.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye
This is a hopeful poem about the true nature of life.
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.
Darling by Jackie Kay
(for Julie Darling)
You might forget the exact sound of her voice,
Or how her face looked when sleeping.
You might forget the sound of her quiet weeping
Curled into the shape of a half moon,
When smaller than herself, she seemed already to be leaving
Before she left, when the blossom was on the trees
And the sun was out, and all seemed good in the world.
I held her hand and sang a song from when I was a girl –
Heil Ya Ho Boys, Let her go Boys
And when I stopped singing she had slipped away,
Already a slip of a girl again, skipping off,
Her heart light, her face almost smiling.
And what I didn’t know, or couldn’t see then,
Was that she hadn’t really gone.
The dead don’t go till you do, loved ones.
The dead are still here holding our hands.
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