This is a new favourite of ours, a great funeral poem set to wonderful music. We knew of the poem, but the musical setting only came to our notice last year.
The poem was written in 1932 by Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905-2004). For some time, the origin of the poem was disputed, but after research by the “Dear Abbey” columnist Abigail van Buren, it was confirmed in 1998 that Mary Frye was indeed the author. (Better late than never!)
The version of the poem below was published by The Times in Frye’s obituary on November 5, 2004:
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 sun 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 circling flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
An American by birth, Mary Frye wrote the poem in 1932 in response to the plight of a young German Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was staying with Frye and her husband.When Schwarzkopf’s mother died, the heartbroken young woman told Frye that she never had the chance to “Stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear”.
The poem came to the UK’s attention in 1995 when a soldier’s father read it on BBC radio in remembrance of his son, after he had found it in an envelope addressed ‘To all my loved ones’ in his son’s personal effects.
There have been a number of settings of Frye’s poem, but our favourite by far is the setting by Geoff Stephens first performed at the 2003 Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall.
Geoff is best known as a pop songwriter and producer, who won a Grammy in 1966 with the song ‘Winchester Cathedral’. Geoff wrote in conjuction with other British songwriters, and wrote a series of hits in the 1960s and 1970s for artists including: Manfred Mann, Les Reed, The Carpenters, Tom Jones, Cliff Richard, Crystal Gayle and The New Seekers.
His setting of ‘Do not stand at my grave and weep’ has become a very popular choice at funeral services and is extremely fitting at a point in the service for a period of reflection. It has proved equally popular for the graveside, as many families find that the combination of apt words and a gently tune provides a source of musical comfort and solace at a very difficult moment.
Click below to hear soprano Toni singing this gorgeous funeral song: