10 poems for grief: poems that don't offer answers or certainty

One hallmark of acute loss is that it tears down our meticulously built worlds. It crumbles the foundation and knocks down the walls built around a particular person, a particular dream, a particular life. The things we took for granted become uncertain or disappear altogether.

When this happens, the assurances people use to prop up the grieving feel tone-deaf at best, and at worst, offensive. 

Which is where poetry comes in.

What a relief to read something that doesn’t resolve but rather reflects what it’s like to be human. Reading poetry in seasons of grief can provide a ritual and a container for overwhelming emotions. The words and rhythms can soothe, comfort, and affirm. Poems hold us without offering answers or insisting on certainty. When you sit down with a poem, you can sit with emotions without being capsized by them. 

These ten poems approach grief, loss, heartbreak, and mortality from different perspectives. Below you'll see a short excerpt from each poem, but we hope you will click through and read the full poem as well. Read them, share them and be reminded that you are not alone.


What the Living Do by Marie Howe

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This

is it.

Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called

that yearning.

What you finally gave up.


One Time by Christian Wiman

Praise to the pain

scalding us toward each other, the grief

beyond which, please God, she will live

and thrive.

 

I Sing What You Loved by Gabriela Mistral

"Come to me as the shadows grow long,

come, life of my life, if you know the song

you used to know, if you know my name.

I and the song are still the same.” 

 


Sorrow Is Not My Name by Ross Gay

The long night,

the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me

on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.

But look; my niece is running through a field

calling my name.


This Hour and What Is Dead by Li-Young Lee

"His love for me feels like spilled water

running back to its vessel."

 

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field by Mary Oliver

"so I thought:

maybe death isn’t darkness, after all, 

but so much light wrapping itself around us”  


Separation by W. S. Merwin

"Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color."


The Light the Living See By by Ada Limón

"Chemicals and maggots, sure,

but also a place to grieve, a creek,

a constellation of death to count on.”


Token Loss by Kay Ryan

The circle

of himself

in the nest

of his gold

has been

broken.”


The Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

You swallowed everything, like distance.

Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank!”

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