A Dying Art
Distributed for Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
Epitaphs are words to be remembered by, short poems or phrases literally written in stone. They can be practical, carrying some variation of the familiar “Here Lies,” but they can also be brilliantly creative with personally meaningful quotes or words written especially by or for the deceased. From the simple to the cleverly cryptic, epitaphs are meant to leave a lasting impression—and many certainly do.
Epitaphs brings together more than 250 epitaphs from cemeteries, churchyards, monuments, and historical records. Some announce the cause of death with a surprisingly macabre sense of humor: “Here lies John Ross. Kicked by a hoss.” Others wryly remind readers of their own impending mortality, such as a tombstone whose rhyming inscription reads “As I am now you will surely be. / Prepare thyself to follow me.” In death as in life, many of the most famous writers were not at a loss for words. Emily Dickinson’s concise wit is evident in her headstone’s inscription “Called Back.” Yeats encouraged the horsemen of the apocalypse to “pass by.” Shakespeare’s funerary monument at Stratford-upon-Avon carries the warning “Curst be he that moves my bones,” an inscription many believe the Bard himself wrote to prevent his corpse from being exhumed in the name of research, a common practice at the time.
As tribute to a form of expression that is very much alive, Epitaphs collects some of the most intriguing examples, many of which perfectly encapsulate the person buried beneath them.
1 Long Life, Love, & Friendship
2 Occupations & Professions
3 Let Us Now Praise Famous Men – and Women
4 Elegiac, Poignant, & Plaintive
5 Peculiar, Gothic, Whimsical, & Absurd
6 Violent or Untimely Death
7 Literary Epitaphs