Death is Nothing at All – the ‘royal’ funeral poem often recited in Ireland

Death is Nothing at All

‘Death is nothing at all’ is a beautiful and very popular poem which is often recited at funerals in Ireland and across the world.

It was written by the Reverend Henry Scott Holland in 1910 following the death of King Edward VII. It became instantly popular, partly because of its association with royalty but mostly because of its positive, heart-warming message.

More than a century after it was written, it was recited at the funeral of Irish American businessman Don Keough, who was the president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola.

Mr Keough’s great-grandfather had emigrated to America from Wexford during the famine years of the 1840s. Mr Keough was proud of his heritage and was presented with honorary Irish citizenship by President Mary McAleese in 2007.

Death is nothing at all

Death is nothing at all,
It does not count,
I have only slipped away into the next room,
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was,
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged,
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name,
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used,
Put no difference into your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together,
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me,
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant,
It is the same as it ever was,
There is absolute and unbroken continuity,
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.
All is well,
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost,
One brief moment and all will be as it was before,
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

The poem’s enduring appeal

Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of the poem is the way that it suggests that a loved one isn’t really gone; they live on in our hearts and so are always with us, as if they have simply gone into another room for a while. The separation is not forever, they are waiting for us and we will soon be reunited.

As the deceased remains close to us, we are encouraged to maintain the old familiar tone we always adopted when speaking to them. The effect is very powerful and can be helpful and comforting to those who have lost a loved one.

They have a calming tone and remind the mourner to remember all the good times and that the person who has passed is never really far away.

Video of 10 Uplifting Funeral Poems

Listen to Death is Nothing at All being recited, set to images of Ireland and beautiful Celtic music. It starts at 2.10. There are also nine other funeral poems in the video.

The poem Death is Nothing at All is often associated with the Carmelite monks in Tallow, Co Waterford. They are widely reported to have popularised it but there is little evidence to support that theory. It’s more likely that the poem became popular by word of mouth due to its positive and friendly tone.

Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling