Words often fall short when it comes to expressing grief. There is no right way to respond, but sometimes poetry can help us capture the feelings we struggle to define. Here is a collection of 10 beautiful poems on grief that manage to make music from a sense of loss.
1. “loss” by alex elle
but how do we let go without
falling apart– without crumbling
from loosening our grip on what
was and what could have been.
From her collection Neon Soul, Washington, D.C. poet Alex Elle likens her feelings to swallowing rocks and stormy waters, asking herself, “How do we let go without falling apart?”
2. “redemption song” by kevin young
Grief might be easy
if there wasn’t still
such beauty – would be far
simpler if the silver
maple didn’t thrust
its leaves into flame
In dealing with his father’s death, Young reached for poems to connect with his sense of loss. This resulted in his anthology titled The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing. His poem on grief, “Redemption Song” describes the difficulties of enjoying the beautiful things in life in the face of pain.
3. “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.
Proof that the best poems are timeless, this short 1923 poem by Robert Frost uses nature to describe how all things in life must come to an end. Written in October, he draws from autumnal imagery like golden leaves, flowers, and the dawn to depict a cycle from beginning to end.
4. “change of address” by dónall dempsey
before you were separate to me
entire to yourself
now you are
a part of me
you are inside my self
In the cleverly titled poem on grief, “Change of Address,” Irish poet Dónall Dempsey describes how sharp and sudden onset of grief can be, and how he frames the loss in his mind in order to cope.
5. “loss” by h.d.
I choke with each breath
a curious peril, this–
the gods have invented
curious torture for us.
Short for Hilda Doolittle, H.D. is known for her strong imagery and economic word choice. “Loss” describes a violent and indifferent natural world, with the lines “…but the gods wanted you / the gods wanted you back.”
6. “go on and grieve” by emmy marucci
We look at each other
it’s like a song
In this poem, Emmy Marucci gives a 21st-century depiction of loss. Blurring the lines between singing and crying, dancing and dying, she encourages us to let grief take its course.
7. “time does not bring relief; you all have lied” by edna st. vincent millay
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,—so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
This 1931 poem on grief from Pulitzer Prize-winner Edna St. Vincent Millay bluntly describes how time does not necessarily heal all wounds, as the many places she loves to visit brim with memories of her lost love, even places she has never been.
8. “a moment in between” by najwa zebian
Just like sadness doesn’t last too long, those moments of happiness might not either. Put happiness in your heart when it comes your way as you would put sadness.
From her collection, Mind Platter, Zebian reminds us of the temporality of all emotions. Like with the changing weather, the best we can do is embrace the changes that come and cherish little moments of happiness.
9. “funeral blues” w. h. auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
In the 1938 poem on grief titled, “Funeral Blues,” the English poet W. H. Auden describes the devastating blow a loss can bring, and the desire he feels to stop the world from turning.
10. “grief” by stephen dobyns
To say your name was to be surrounded
by feathers and silk; now, reaching out,
I touch glass and barbed wire.
Award winning American poet Stephen Dobyns describes the difficult and painful parts of remembering after a loss. In this poem on grief, he compares trying to remember someone to trying to carry water in his hands.
In your journey through feelings of loss, never forget to take care of yourself. Seek out caring people. Express your feelings. Nourish your mind and body. Be patient, and never be afraid to ask for help. You are not alone.