Friday, September 19, 2008

101 Ways, Part 34: Changed This Mortal Life for That of Immortality

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.
I had some lighting issues in Newburyport. Apologies for this photo.
Perhaps I'm just in an uncharitable mood, but I don't like this epitaph very much. It may very well be an expression of Anna Palmer's family's grief, but it comes off sounding pretentious and lugubrious:

Here darkness dwells —
Fit contemplation for proud human thought.
Under this mournful Stone
lie the remains of 
Wife of
who changed this mortal life for that 
of immortality on the 21st of
JULY AD 1786.
In the 32d Year of her age.
O the soft commerce! O the tender ties,
Close twisted with the Fibres of the Heart!
Which broken, break them; and drain off the soul
Of human joy; and make it pain to live —
And is it then to live? When such Friends part,
Tis the Survivor dies — my Heart! no more!

After reading this epitaph (and deciding I didn't like it much), I did some googling and found that the verse at the end is from Edward Young's poem The Relapse, which is part five of his famous Night Thoughts. This series of poems is, apparently, an important work of early Romanticism, but I found it quite a slog. 

Nevertheless, it is significant that Anna Palmer's family in Newburyport decided to convey their grief in the words of a poet whose "avowed purpose is to establish a defense of the teachings of Christian orthodoxy in direct protest against the optimistic philosophy of the deists."

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