Writers’ words live on through used pages of books and monuments. Every hand that holds and turns the pages, touches written monuments, changes us forever.
In death, we still read their words—the Dead Poets Society. These dead poets’ written words make us bleed emotions, and we feel compelled to attach them to memes, tattoo them on our bodies, or inscribe them on headstones. While we replicate their poems in life and death, some poets had provided their own inscription for the ever after. They lived and died with their words. Here is a glimpse of a few of them.
In 1939, Yeats died in France and was buried there. He specifically told his wife, “If I die bury me up there [at Roquebrune] and then in a year’s time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo.” Nine years later, she granted his wish, and moved his body to Drumcliffe, County Sligo.
Many years later, people still cherish his poetry. Yeats had a major influence on lead singer, Mike Scott of the Waterboys. Because of his brief studies in literature and philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, Scott took advantage of English literature in his music. He used some of Yeats’ poems and put them to music. The Waterboys released the album in 2011 titled, An Appointment with Mr Yeats.
It’s a huge dedication to the once influential writer, who is now secured in Ireland. The family had inscribed the last three lines of one of his final poems, Under Ben Bulben. This is the final stanza.
Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
An American poet, Robert Frost’s poems were revered for their rural life in 20th century New England. He received not one, but four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. He moved from San Francisco to Massachusetts, settling in several New England states. In 1915, he bought a farm in New Hampshire, the family’s summer home, and started a career as a writer, teacher, and lecturer. Frost taught almost every summer and fall at the Ripton, Vermont campus of Bread Loaf School of English of Middlebury College, along with teaching English at Amherst College in Massachusetts. At the age of 86, Frost gave a reading of his poetry at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.
Two decades before Frost died, he wrote his epitaph in a poem, The Lesson for Today. His family inscribed the last line of the last stanza on his headstone. It’s unknown whether he wanted this line to be his real epitaph.
I hold your doctrine of Memento Mori
And were an epitaph to be my story,
I’d have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.
The Bard does not need an introduction from me. His words are resounded through generations. Historians pieced together much of his life since few records had survived. Some academics still doubt the authorship of his works.
In 1616, Shakespeare died, and his resting place is in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. As assumed, Shakespeare wrote his epitaph, which includes a curse to anyone who moves his bones.
Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be man spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he moves my bones.
Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
I thought I’d share a few pictures of funny headstones, but I didn’t verify their authenticity.
I think I’d want my epitaph to make people smile, leaving them with some sort of an impression. Maybe something like, “She danced in the rain,” or “Lived the dream.” But I’m actually leaning towards a simple oxymoron: Old news, Slumber party, Easy task, Escaped Prisoner, Spoiled Goods, Final Draft, Disaster Relief, Virtual Reality, Rough Finish, Uninvited Guest, or Historical Fiction.
What would you like your epitaph to say? Would you want something thought provoking or humorous?
Dead Poets and Epitaphs,