Skip to main content

Funeral Poems: ‘Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep’ by Mary E. Frye and ‘If I Should Go First’ by Joyce Grenfell

Glenis studied for a B.A (Hons) in English Literature after retirement. She was awarded a degree at the age of 67.

'Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep'

I recited this poem at the funeral of my father, who died suddenly at the age of ninety-one after a good and full life. We wanted the funeral service to be a celebration of his life and I felt that this beautiful poem set the tone for the service. The poem suggests that death is not the end and that we live on in spirit as part of nature.

These two poems offer hope and consolation to the bereaved.

These two poems offer hope and consolation to the bereaved.

'Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep'

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.

"I am the sunlight on ripened grain"

"I am the sunlight on ripened grain"

Mystery Author

I found the poem by chance when looking for a suitable eulogy and at the time was unaware of the story behind it. The poem was left in an envelope by a soldier on active service in Northern Ireland. It was addressed to his parents and was to be opened in the event of his death. At first, it was thought that the soldier himself had written the poem, but this was not the case. Various claims were made for it but the author remained an unsolved mystery until 1990, when Mary Elizabeth Frye revealed that she had written it. Mrs Frye, an American housewife and florist wrote the poem, on a brown paper bag in 1932. She had circulated a few copies to friends who enjoyed the poem but never claimed copyright, hence the difficulty in establishing authorship. Following an investigation, in 1998 authorship was formally attributed to her.

The Nation's Favourite Poem

In 1995 the UK book programme, The Bookworm, conducted a poll to coincide with National Poetry Day. 'Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep' was outside the scope of the poll, but following a programme about war poems which featured the poem, 30,000 requests for copies descended on the BBC. Subsequently, a book of the poems that had been chosen as the Nation's Favourite Poems was published, and a decision was made to include 'Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep' in 'prime, first past the post, poll position'.

Form and Style

  • The poem is a variation of the sonnet form. Twelve lines of rhyming couplets
  • Short statements in the first six lines, usually in words of one syllable. Full stops slow the pace of the poem.
  • The 'voice' of the poem is of someone who has passed away and who aims to bring comfort to those who s/he has left behind.
  • Note the repetition at the beginning of lines (eight times) of the words 'I am', emphasising that the writer not died
  • Beautiful use of imagery and metaphor—the diamond glints on snow, sunlight on grain suggesting light. The writer is omnnipresent, a part of everything that is beautiful in nature—the wind and the rain, the sunlight, the birds, and the stars.
  • Lovely alliteration ' the soft stars that shine'
  • The poem comes full circle with the repetition in the closing lines of the suggestion that the bereaved should not weep—because the writer is still there, albeit in spirit form
A murmuration of starlings.  "Quiet birds in circled flight". The metaphor is suggestive of joyfulness and freedom from earthly ties, emphasised by the use of the adjective "uplifting"

A murmuration of starlings. "Quiet birds in circled flight". The metaphor is suggestive of joyfulness and freedom from earthly ties, emphasised by the use of the adjective "uplifting"

'If I Should Go' by Joyce Grenfell

We chose this poem for my son to read at the funeral of his grandmother. Like Joyce Grenfell, the poet who wrote it, my mother was a joyful person. She would not have wanted an overly mournful funeral service and she would not have wished anyone to grieve for an extended period after her passing. We wanted the service to be a celebration of her life. Though of course, even after several years, we still miss her dreadfully. But I prefer to focus on my positive memories. The reference to singing in the poem was particularly appropriate because Mum, throughout her life, loved to sing. She was actually a semi-professional singer during her youth, performing with dance bands and at night clubs.

'If I Should Go'

If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.

An Interpretation of 'If I Should Go First'

The poem reads like the instructions for a funeral that others might choose to put in a last will and testament.

The first three lines of the poem adjure the listeners what not to do at the poet's funeral. They should not have flowers or a memorial stone, and they should not be unnaturally solemn.

The last four lines tell the writer's wishes for what those who are left behind should do. If the bereaved feel that they must weep for a short time, that is acceptable, because separation from a loved one is dreadful. But there is a reminder that life goes on after we lose somebody and that life should be enjoyed.

Joyce Grenfell 1972

Joyce Grenfell 1972

About Joyce Grenfell (1910–1979)

  • Joyce Grenfell was born into an upper-middle-class family. Her maternal aunt was Lady Astor.
  • Grenfell was a much-loved English comedienne, actress, BBC scriptwriter, and monologist.
  • During the Second World War, she toured abroad extensively, entertaining the troops.
  • In 1942 she wrote what was to become her signature song 'I'm Going to See You Today'.
  • In 1946 Grenfell was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)
  • She became famous in the USA after appearing on the Ed Sullivan show alongside Elvis Presley
  • Joyce Grenfell died in November 1979. In February 1980 a Memorial Service was held in her honour at Westminster Cathedral, the first time this rare honour had been conferred on a performance artist.
  • 1998, her image appeared on a Post Office stamp as one in a series of stamps celebrating Heroes of Comedy.
  • In a 2005 poll to find the Comedians' Comedian she was voted into the top 50 best-ever comedians.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: When was Joyce Grenfell born?

Answer: Joyce Grenfell was born on the February 10th 1910, in Knightsbridge, London.

© 2017 Glen Rix