A Poem to Comfort the Bereaved: Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004)

Updated on December 18, 2017
Glenis Rix profile image

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

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.

"I am the soft stars that shine at night"
"I am the soft stars that shine at night" | Source

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" | Source

History of Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

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 addressed 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 by the poem, but this was not the case. Various claims were made for it but the author remained an unsolved mystery until in 1990 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'.

Analysis of the Form and Style of the Poem

  • 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" | Source

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  • Claire-louise profile image

    Claire Raymond 4 months ago from UK

    A friend of mine lost her husband just yesterday, he had been ill for some time and she says she will read this at his funeral. It's very beautiful.

  • Glenis Rix profile image
    Author

    GlenR 4 months ago from UK

    Yes, it's true. My father died 2 years ago this month and I still feel that he is with me, especially when I'm in the garden tending the plants that he gave to me.

  • Glenis Rix profile image
    Author

    GlenR 5 months ago from UK

    Mary, it's an interesting idea that the writer may have been moved to write the poem by people who visited her florist shop to buy flowers for funerals. It hadn't occurred to me. You are probably right.

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 5 months ago from Brazil

    It is a beautiful poem. I wonder if the woman who wrote it, did so after she saw the grief of people who came into her florist shop.

    It is much more a comfort to think that a loved one is still present in spirit.

    Your analysis is interesting. My understanding of poetry is sadly lacking. Sometimes I struggle to read it in the correct rhythm and then so much is lost.

  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 5 months ago from Riga, Latvia

    Really a lovely poem. So true that death only releases us from this world but in spirit we go on.

  • Coffeequeeen profile image

    Louise Powles 5 months ago from Norfolk, England

    That really is a lovely poem. It's a comfort for people to read these words.

  • Fullerman5000 profile image

    Ryan Fuller 5 months ago from Louisiana, USA

    Thank you for sharing your story and for sharing this wonderful poem with us. I know it is hard to lose a loved especially.