Friday, November 30, 2012

Poetic Epitaphs

Reading the epitaphs, our only salvation lies in resurrecting the dead and burying the living.
~Paul Eldridge

When Benjamin Franklin was 22 years old, he wrote the epitaph that he imagined might be carved on his tombstone. By the time he actually died at age 84, he had changed his mind.

The Epitaph of Young Benjamin Franklin

The body of
B. Franklin, Printer
(Like the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn Out
And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies Here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be Lost;
For it will (as he Believ'd) Appear once More
In a New and More Elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected
By the Author.

Benjamin Franklin's Final Epitaph

Benjamin and Deborah Franklin: 1790


John Donne (1572-1631)

Reader, I am to let thee know,
Donne's body only lies below;
For could the grave his soul comprise,
Earth would be richer than the skies.


Mrs. Aphra Behn (1640-89)

Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be
Defence enough against Mortality.


David Hume

Within this circular idea
Called vulgarly a tomb,
The ideas and impressions lie
That constituted Hume


Peter Robinson (19th century)

Here lies the preacher, judge, and poet, Peter
Who broke the laws of God, and man, and metre.


Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.


Olivia Susan Clemens (1866-1890)
[Daughter of Mark Twain]

Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
Green sod above, lie light, lie light --
Good-night, dear heart, good-night, good-night.


William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death
Horseman, pass by.

Amy LV at The Poem Farm is our Poetry Friday host today.


madelyn said...

And now I want to go write one for every author I have loved...

Robyn Hood Black said...

Loved reading these, Tabatha - thank you! Reminded me of getting to visit Westminster Abbey years ago. Though I really love old cemeteries off the beaten path, with crumbly tombstones and birdsong.

Refreshing to read some of these which are laced with humor, and the one for Mark Twain's daughter is so very sweet.

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

I agree with Madelyn! These are very inspiring. I'm actually quite saddened by Twain's epitaph for his daughter. And it's quite telling of the intellectual we know as Ben Franklin, that he wrote something like that when he ws so young.

Author Amok said...

Aphra Behn -- I remember learning about her in college. Great epitaph. Oscar Wilde's stone touched me -- "outcasts always mourn." What would his life had been like had he lived in 2012?

jama said...

These are fascinating, Tabatha. I also found Wilde's one sad, and Olivia Clemens' so poignantly sweet.

Susan Taylor Brown said...

I find these fascinating too. I almost shudder to think what some people might write on mine. Perhaps I should create my own, too? :) and then I will stretch my wings to exceed its boundaries.

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

Interesting....there is an art to this, and no small measure of self knowledge. The last one was so lovely - such wistful sadness.

Amy LV said...

I adore Olivia's...walking in cemeteries is one of my favorite pastimes, and I fancy myself having a bench for people to rest on. Thank you for this thoughtful post...musing... a.

Linda B said...

Love that quote at the beginning, Tabatha. I have one for you. WC Fields wanted "I'd rather be in Philadelphia". I wrote about this in a slightly different way a while ago. I used to take my students to write in a cemetery, & look for the poetry there. We found many beautiful epitaphs on the gravestones.

laurasalas said...

I love the Donne one. Spectacular...