Thursday, February 8, 2018

Poetry in Action: Graveyard Ditties

Photo by Ben Churchill

“Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.” 
           – George Bernard Shaw, from The Doctor's Dilemma: a Tragedy

Photo by A.J.

Thanks to J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen, we're writing epitaph poems this month. After only one week, you can peruse more than twenty of them on the padlet! Whoa. You guys really like writing about death. You know what they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

"THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD."                                                            Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor
Soooooo . . .

In keeping with that momentum, I thought it might be fun to share some "real-life" epitaphs that have been spotted out and about in the world. Can I confirm the authenticity in every case? No, but if one or two phony ones sneak in and make you giggle, what's the harm? The following graveyard ditties (along with many others) were found at Brief Poems: An irregular anthology of tweet-size poems.  It nearly killed me not to share more, but organization fanatic that I am, at least the ones I chose fell neatly into four categories.

The epitaphs in the first group play on the deceased's names.

Reader if cash thou art
In want of any
Dig 4 feet deep
And thou wilt find a Penny. 

          John Penny's epitaph in the Wimborne, England cemetery.

Owen Moore
Gone away
Owin' more
Than he could pay.

          The tombstone of Owen Moore in Battersea, London

Here lies Ann Mann,
Who lived an old maid
But died an old Mann.

          The tombstone of Ann Mann in London, England

On the 22nd of June
Jonathan Fiddle
Went out of tune.

          On a tombstone in a cemetery in Hartscombe, England

The next group pays tribute to how they lived their lives.

Here, reader, turn your weeping eyes,
My fate a useful moral teaches;
The hole in which my body lies
Would not contain one half my speeches.

          The tombstone of Lord Brougham, an orator

Beneath this stone, a lump of clay,
Lies stingy Jimmy Wyatt.
Who died one morning just at ten
And saved a dinner by it.

          A tombstone in Falkirk, England

Here lays Butch,
We planted him raw.
He was quick on the trigger,
But slow on the draw.

          A tombstone in a Silver City, Nevada cemetery

Tom Smith is dead, and here he lies,
Nobody laughs and nobody cries;
Where his soul's gone, or how it fares,
Nobody knows and nobody cares.

          On a tombstone dated 1742 in Newbury, England

Photo by Brian Donnelly (click to enlarge)

The third group of epitaphs comment on how the poor souls died.

Here lies the body of our Anna
Done to death by a banana
It wasn't the fruit that laid her low
But the skin of the thing that made her go.

          The tombstone of Anna Hopewell in Enosburg Falls, Vermont

His foot is slipt
and he did fall.
"Help; Help" he cried
and that was all.

          The tombstone of Joseph Crapp in Mylor Churchyard, Cornwall, England

First a Cough
Carried Me Off
Then a Coffin
They Carried Me Off In

          On a tombstone in Boston, Massachusetts

Here lies the body
of Jonathan Blake
Stepped on the gas
Instead of the brake.

          On a tombstone in a Uniontown, Pennsylvania cemetery

A fond "Good-bye" to Elijah Jefferson Bond, inventor of the Ouija Board.
Photo by Something Original

I think of this last group as the "happily ever after" epitaphs.

Here lies the body
Of Margaret Bent
She kicked up her heels
And away she went.

          Margaret Bent's epitaph in Winterborn Steepleton Cemetery, Dorsetshire

Here I at length repose,
My spirit now at aise is;
With the tips of my toes
And the point of my nose
Turned up to the roots of the daisies.

          Teague O'Brian penned his own final words as a limerick, in
          a Ballyporeen, Ireland churchyard

Under the sod and under the trees
Lies the body of Jonathan Pease.
He is not here, there's only the pod:
Pease shelled out and went to God.

          On a grave from the 1880's in Nantucket, Massachusetts

Sacred to the memory of Miss Martha Gwynn,
Who was so very pure within.
She burst the outer shell of sin.
And hatched herself a cherubim.

          The tombstone of Martha Gwynn at St. Alban's cemetery

Photo by Wildhartlivie

Add your own epitaph poem to the DMC cemetery... er, padlet HERE. This week's daily ditties featured work by Molly Hogan, Robyn Hood Black, Kathryn Apel, and Jane Yolen.

At the end of February, one lucky participant will win a copy of Last Laughs: Prehistoric Epitaphs by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins (Charlesbridge, 2017).

Sally Murphy wouldn't be caught dead missing out on Poetry Friday. Here she is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup!


  1. I love some of these tongue-in-cheek tombstones! Death comes to us all, whether we like it or not, and I'd be delighted to think that my tombstone might bring a smile to passersby. :-)

  2. Oh my... Maybe I should start work on my tombstone. #RIP #WIP

  3. Mwah haa haaa, Michelle - I so love this post! (But I do feel badly for poor Tom Smith.) OK, next time we get together, we should go on an old gravestone-reading adventure. Thank you for all the other-worldly fun! (Kat's hashtags are a hoot, too!)

  4. Oh, I just love the wordplay in these epitaphs! RIP to these witty souls. Another famously tongue-in-cheek epitaph: Dorothy Parker's "Excuse my dust." :-)

  5. Thanks, Michelle. Tomorrow, my church community will honor the life of our 96 year-old friend who passed on this week. These tombstone verses made me chuckle and also wonder what Gordon would like for his epitaph! I really like Jonathan Fiddle's verse! Now I want to roam around in graveyards.

  6. This is a hilarious collection. People express their love in so many ways, and humor is a vastly appealing one.

  7. Merv Griffin's is one of my favorites. Great collection of funny and unexpected poems.

  8. Had to laugh about Jimmy Wyatt!
    You reminded me that I posted once about epitaphs (a long time ago!). Here's one from that post:

    Peter Robinson (19th century)

    Here lies the preacher, judge, and poet, Peter
    Who broke the laws of God, and man, and metre.

  9. Best tombstones ever!! And what a fun passel of epitaphs.

  10. These are great! And it appears that England takes the prize for the best epitaphs.

  11. Oh, these are priceless. I've been to cemeteries with students looking for poems, but I don't think we found any that we laughed over, mostly sweet ones. I feel for Tom Smith but if I had known him, perhaps not. Love also the "Pease shelled out". Can you imagine he probably heard such a joke all his life! Thanks, Michelle!

  12. This post made me chuckle so many times. Thanks for the laughs!

  13. What fun Michelle! I do like the Elijah Jefferson Bond’s Ouija board — mystery lies beyond. I smiled all the way through, thanks!

  14. Hmm...I was going to write some random epitaph of an object or some such, but now I'm wondering what might go on MY imaginary gravestone...

    I love Jonathan Pease being shelled out!!

  15. Love Kat's #WIP hastag. And all these poems + images.
    Appreciations to Jane & J. P. & YOU for a silly Feb. challenge.

    I've posted 3 to the padlet today. Such

  16. So many giggles here. And I found myself hoping that some of them were chosen in advance by the person them self

  17. These are a riot! What an inspiration. Thank you for sharing them, Michelle!