Poems about Grief

There are many, many poems about grief, here are a few that have been meaningful to me on my grief journey. As I read various poems about grief, I find it helpful to be especially mindful of the ways they are touching my own story. What emotions, desires, and metaphors fit with my own experiences? Reading another person's reflection on similar experiences helps me find new ways to language my own story. Of course, there are many experiences that are very different.

These first two poems are from Mary Oliver's book Thirst. It is a book of poetry that expresses sorrow on the loss of her partner. She also grapples with her spiritual journey in the midst of the loss. It is a book that I have found myself relating well to over the past few years.

After Her Death

I am trying to find the lesson
for tomorrow. Matthew something.
Which lectionary? I have not
forgotten the Way, but, a little,
the way to the Way. The trees keep whispering
peace, peace, and the birds
in the shallows are full of the
bodies of small fish and are
content. They open their wings
so easily, and fly. It is still
possible.

           I open the book
which the strange, difficult, beautiful church
has given me. To Matthew. Anywhere.

by Mary Oliver

A Pretty Song

From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.

Which is the only way to love, isn't it?
This isn't a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.

Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.

And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song,
And I say to my heart: rave on.

by Mary Oliver

Here is a Haiku that I found in Robert McDowell's book called Poetry as Spiritual Practice.

On the Death of His Child

Dew evaporates
And all our world is dew...so dear,
So fresh, so fleeting.

                    (Issa)

This one is by Robert McDowell from the same book. It is written for a mentor of his.

Talking with the Dead

Morning. Ocean rain and fog.
I wake uneasy in the God Beach motel,
Scratching in my brain to set the day right
And here it is, the calendar reminding me
That on this day a year ago you died.

On this day a year ago you packed
Your gentle manner and disarming clarity,
Your kindness and bawdy humor,
Your high pitched laugh and pixie face
And crossed over, leaving the phone dead,

The crowded dining room hollow,
The reservoir iced over, the lovers ashen,
The tennis courts deserted.
Ever since I've wanted to get even
With Death. I've wanted to bring you back

Where you belong--a purely selfish act
If I could pull it off. I've wanted to join you,
Loving your company, happy where you were.
Your exit knocked me off my stride.
A rhythm I can't seem to find again.

The Left Behind can't help but make it all about them.
We wade in shadows for answers we can't have,
And though we never left a word unsaid,
I'd give a world to sit with you and talk
Just as we used to do. Now it's in my head,

The work of keeping you alive. Just as you
Constantly renewed yourself (and have again,
for all we know), I keep your lesson close;
Be open, honest, true; be rigorous and loyal,
But most of all be joyful in everything I say and do.

The world is shining even as we lose
The people, things and scenes we cherish most.
Walking on the beach, my son whose middle nameIs yours collects stones and makes up stories for each
     one.
A life can be a model. I learned that much from you.

Through the Valley

Our trail led down into the gorge.
We harbored fear, but had no choice;
love’s rod was always there to prod us on.

Step by worried step,
we carried you for miles, always hoping
for the path to strike an upward tack
and lead us through and out; we wandered there
so very long.

In meadows green we laid us down and, choking, drank the
brimming chalice of our sorrow by the cool and quiet river’s bank,
for it was there we learned we could not take you with us any further, nor
could we remain.

Kneeling at the water’s edge, the best that we could do
for you was weave a basket, lay you in, and send
you on your way. You couldn’t know we didn’t leave, but watched
that basket float until it passed the bend, would be there
still if love had not reached
out to nudge us with
a gentle staff.

* * * * * * * * *

This path is leading out and through, but without you:
Oh, empty arms! Looking toward where we’ve been I feel
the pain and smell the smoke of hopes becoming ashes, yet I know
that this is right: these labored steps, my aching hips, love’s
leading toward the light. And there is this: at night
I dream of palaces that lie beyond the bend; I see
some bathing goddess reaching out to
lift you from the rushes.

Jason Myers-Benner
August 8, 2008

You can read Jason's story at Myers-Benner Interview.

Reflection on Poems about Grief:

Where do you find yourself in these poems about grief? What desire or need is touched for you? What do you feel? How does your body respond? What invitation is present for you?

For more poems about grief find links to several pages on the main grief poems page.

Read about my new book of poems about grief called Seasons of Solace.

Have you written any poems about grief from your own journey? Consider sharing them with us at bereavment poem.

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