There is so much to say about this gravestone.
For starters, the iconography is startling. A central death's head is surrounded by . . . flames? smoke? Other gravestones are decorated with vines and foliage, but these swirls look fire-like to me. Two of the plumes are arranged on either side of the skull so that they look like horns. When I first saw this, I was hesitant to call them horns, but I must take my own advice — I see horns. I'm not sure what this means, but I don't think that "horned skull surrounded by flames" is a warm, fuzzy symbol in any context.
she y^ts here Inter^d need^s no VercifyingNo name, no dates. Just a verse rejecting the power of "Vercifying" and gravestones. Stones from this time sometimes imply that they (and the remains beneath them) will endure until the judgment day — rarely do they acknowledge that the stones, while comparatively durable, will not last forever. It's a poignant sentiment 300 years on.
a Vertious life will keep ye name from dying
she^ll live thou^h Poets cease their Scribling ^rime
when yt this stone shall mouldr^d be by Time
Who was this woman? Why did the carver reject the conventions of grave markers so thoroughly? Does this stone help explain why New England has only a handful of stones from before the 1670s? Was there an early aversion to marking the dead with vain, worldly objects?
It is very difficult to date a stone like this. The death's head is somewhat unusual in that it has no eyebrows, but that's hardly a unique marker. I've compared this stone to others in the Farber Collection on several points:
- death's head without eyebrows
- lower-case letters
- use of yt for "that"
If pressed, I would guess that the mystery stone was producd before the Josiah Tacher stone. The lettering has delicate details, but is poorly spaced and lightly inscribed. More glaringly, the layout is bizarre — an unruled runs around 3 sides of the stone, but tapers off and does not enclose the right side. No matter — letters begin before the line on the left and are crammed in on the right. Which came first, the line or the letters? Conflicting evidence: look at the spacing of "she" vs. the spacing of "she'll." Also, contractions?
The whole thing is a confusing mix of the amateur and the skillful. Those letters weren't gouged out with a nail, but whoever carved them was not in the habit of using a ruler for his borders. He wasn't even sure he wanted borders at all.
I need to think more about this stone.
She that's here interred needs no versifying,
A virtuous life will keep the name from dying.
She'll live, though poets cease their scribbling rhyme,
When that this stone shall mouldred be by Time.