Let’s All Write an Epitaph!

by Paul Mathers

Because this is what I do on a summer vacation morning, apparently.

The etymology of the word is from the ancient Greek for a funeral oration. It is, in the modern English, an inscription on a tombstone or memorial marker for the dead.

When I was in Stratford-Upon-Avon (I realize with shock that it is creeping up on 20 years ago) I was surprised to find that I had never heard of the famous epitaph of Shakespeare’s tomb (possibly penned by the Bard himself) until I was standing in front of it:

Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare
Blese be the man that spares these stones
And curst be he that moves my bones

I did buy a rubbing of it in the gift shop, Lord help me.

Ron Padgett says that an epitaph could be a simple phrase in prose or a poem, but, I mean, we didn’t come to The Handbook of Poetic Forms for simple lines of prose, now did we? Here is an example by Robinson Jeffers (a poem which I also might not mind having on my tombstone):

I wrestled with what I wanted to do with this form. I rejected out of hand anything cutesy or funny. I thought about those I know who have passed on, but being naturally armored, I was reluctant to delve into such complex areas of feeling in the public square (which is probably a major block in the quality of my poetic output, but that’s my problem and not yours). So, I finally settled on writing, à la Shakespeare, my own epitaph. When I die, be sure to donate money to Laurie so she can get this on my tombstone without her having to sell the movie rights to my novel and, thereby, making me restless in my grave.

Here lie the bones of Paul Mathers, tho’ his soul is on wing

Therefore weep you not over an inanimate thing.

But to honor the former vessel which once contain’d Paul

reflect that, in your current case, the timing is all.

So be kind, and aspire ever Godward with your time,

And listen to Mahler, read the classics, drink red wine!

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