Bereavement Verses
Sympathy Grief Poems

This page of bereavement verses is one among several pages of poems on grief for this site. Read through these and find links for more sympathy grief poems at the bottom of the page.

Have you ever thought about grief as something with whom you could talk? It fits with the perspective that I reflect on this site--the healing benefit of working with our grief face to face. Poet Denise Levertov suggests this in these first two bereavement verses.


To Speak

To speak of sorrow
works upon it
                    moves it from its
crouched place barring
the way to and from the soul’s hall—
out in the light it
shows clear, whether
shrunken or known as
a giant wrath—
                   discrete
at least, where before

its great shadow joined
the walls and roof and seemed
to uphold the hall like a beam.

--Denise Levertov
Selected Poems p. 65,66


Talking to Grief

Ah, grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.

I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.

You think I don’t know you’ve been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name, your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider
my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog.

--Denise Levertov
Poems 1972-1982, p. 111

More bereavement verses by other authors . . .




A Place of Refuge

Perhaps
the most important thing we bring to another person
is the silence in us.

Not the sort of silence
that is filled with unspoken criticism
or hard withdrawal.

The sort of silence that is
a place of refuge,
or rest,
of acceptance of someone as they are.
We are all hungry for this other silence.
It is hard to find.
In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment,
a strength on which to build a life.

Silence is a place of great power and healing.

Silence is God's lap.

Many things grow in the silence in us,
among them simply growing older.
We may then become more a refuge than a rescuer,
a witness to the process of life and the wisdom of acceptance.

…Taking refuge does not mean hiding from life.
It means finding a place of strength,
the capacity to live the life we have been given
with greater courage
and
sometimes even with gratitude.

Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging




FAREWELL LETTER

She wrote me a letter
after her death,
and I remember
a kind of happy light
falling on the envelope
as I sat by the rose tree,
on her old bench
at the back door,
so surprised by its arrival,
wondering what she would say
looking up before I could open it
and laughing to myself
in silent expectation.

Dear son, it is time
for me to leave you.
I am afraid that the words
you are used to hearing
are no longer mine to give,
they are gone and mingled
back in the world
where it is no longer
in my power
to be their first
original author
nor their last
loving bearer.
You can hear
motherly
words of affection now
only from your own mouth
and only
when you speak them
to those
who stand
motherless
before you.

As for me I must forsake
adulthood
and be bound gladly
to a new childhood.
You must understand
this apprenticeship
demands of me
an elemental innocence
from everything
I ever held in my hands.

I know your generous soul
is well able to let me go,
you will in the end
be happy to know
my God was true
and I find myself
after loving you all so long,
in the wide,
infinite mercy
of being mothered myself.

P.S. All of your intuitions were true.

David Whyte
River Flow: New & Selected Poems 1984-2007




One last bereavement verse:
What I love about this next poem on grief is that it questions and explores the validity of conventional wisdom--that time heals all wounds.


A Grief Ago

'There is no grief
which time does not lessen
or soften' -
so said Cicero, a man so often right;
a Stoic, those for whom
all life presents a lesson
to be learned from,
and then, to move on from.

But I wonder about all this:
is grief ever lessened or softened?
Is it not, perhaps, overlaid
in our so various ways?

For some, grief framed and falsified
to ease that grief;

For some, like hyacinths and crocus bulbs,
left in a dark cupboard in the autumn of our grief
to respond to time, and
become at last
themselves?

gently, gently, the covers pulled
over the loving bed,
the true, the pure, the lovely painful grief,
the memory deep cherished,
gently, gently, folded
into the cupboards of the heart

there to be known, without the door disturbed
until the time - 'a grief ago' as Dylan wrote -
the cupboard opened only for love's sake
without grief...:
those carefully folded memories
brought out and loved
and lived a while...

not grief, not grief...but
the pure memory of grief

and behold,
life.

Michael Shepherd


Read more bereavement verses return to grief poems.

Read about my book of poems on grief Seasons of Solace.

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