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
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called
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
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
in the nest
of his gold
The Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
“You swallowed everything, like distance.
Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank!”