“Waking, sleeping, eating, drinking, chatt’ring, lying, life went by;
While of dying little thinking, down I dropp’d, and here I lie”
One of the Widow’s favorite pastimes is to wander through cemeteries and read the inscriptions on tombstones (although not at night. Strange things can be found in cemeteries at night, like idiot kids who think desecrating tombstones is the height of cool). Nowadays, of course, people don’t have the kind of stones on which one can write much (or knock over); most of the headstones have to be a certain (small) size and laid flat and a little below ground-level to make grounds-keeping easier. Sigh.
(If this seems to be an odd pastime…. I suppose it is. Genealogists do this sort of thing, you know. In fact, should I ever deface my car with bumper-stickers, “I brake for cemeteries” will be first.)
Anyway, funeral art is a fascinating study in itself. It is interesting to see how the ‘spirit images’ (or angels, or whatever current scholarship calls them now) developed over the years, even turning into portraits of the deceased, then moving away from death’s heads to urns and other classical motifs, then again to religious subjects like sculptures of weeping angels. If you are interested in such things, check out The Association for Gravestone Studies.
I also enjoy epitaphs. They are little windows into humanity, some of them quite funny, and I’ve considered what I would like the passerby to read on my own stone.
“Here lies the body of Mrs. Rudd
As bombshells go, she was a dud.”
I suppose, though, that if I am allowed a stone (and not just tossed into Potter’s Field), I should have something more useful like, “Of your charity, please pray for the soul of Mrs. Rudd”.
Mrs. Rudd’s soul can use the prayers.
On those occasions when Mr. Rudd annoyingly channeled his inner three-year-old, I threatened to put this on his tombstone:
“Here lies my man, and for the best,
Because it gives us both a rest.”
“Here lies the body of Mr. Rudd
Deeply regretted by those who never knew him.”
“Here lies my husband.
Tears cannot bring him back,
Therefore I weep.”
He always countered with:
“Here lies my wife,
Cold as in life.”
(Of your charity, please pray for the soul of Mr. Rudd.)
Besides finding gems in the local cemeteries, I have a little collection of epitaph books. Here are some of my favorites. Quite often the same epitaph with the same doggerel is found in several books, with only the names and/or locations different, so I’ve left the names and locations out.
Very common are the ‘memento mori’ messages, those reminding the reader that they too will face death:
“Remember, friend, as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you must be
So be prepared to follow me.”
To which one replies:
“To follow you is my intent
But first must know which way you went…”
“If Heaven be pleased when sinners cease to sin
If Hell be pleased when sinners enter in,
If Earth be pleased when ridded of a knave,
Then all are pleased for __________ ‘s in his grave.”
“Here lies _____________
Who died fighting for a lady’s honor
(She wanted to keep it.)”
I painted this on one of the ‘tombstones’ used for decorating our yard at Hallowe’en:
“He called Mr. Rudd a liar!”
For a talkative person:
“Stranger, tread lightly over this wonder
If he opens his mouth, we’ll all go under.”
And an argumentative person:
“Tread lightly over her mouldering form
Or else you’ll raise another storm.”
And a drinker:
“Here lies _________________
Lord, Thy wonders never cease.”
“Here lies _________________
Who shot it out with four horse-thieves
And killed three of them.”
“Here lies the body of ____________, who departed this life suddenly by a cow kicking him. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Epitaph for a beloved Army mule, when the Army still had four-legged mules:
“In memory of Maggie, who in her time kicked two colonels, four majors, ten captains, twenty-four lieutenants, forty-two sergeants, 432 other ranks, and one Mills Bomb.”
Here endeth the first batch of favorite epitaphs.
Master of Mary of Burgundy, 15th century. Illuminated page from the “Office of the Dead”, in the Hours of Engelbert of Nassau.