Tuesday, 7 April 2009


A visit to the churchyard where my partner's ancestors are buried brought home to me the lost art of writing epitaphs. Some time around the late 18th century we seem to have lost the art - or the confidence - to write interesting epitaphs which are not either hopelessly mawkish or sentimental. Two of my favourites - both from Sussex churches read thus:

The first is to one John Parson, dated 1633, in West Tarring churchyard. It carries a short, deftly informative but painfully evocative verse:

Young was his age
Virginity his state
Learning his love
Consumption his fate

A more philosophical one can be found in the porch of St Nicholas' church in Poling: It is dedicated to Alice, the wife of Robert Woolldridge, who died on 27th May 1740, aged 44 years. It has a wonderful rhyme, and one which is not entirely inappropriate for our own celebrity- and wealth-obsessed times:

The World is a round thing
And full of crooked streets
Death is a market place
Where all Men meets
If Life was a thing
That money could buy
The Rich would live
And the Poor would dye

I wonder if you could get away with saying that, now?

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