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Say What? Famous Epitaphs: Memorial Plaques Keep It Short, Simple, Witty, Sad, Defiant, Inspired…

pardon letter
by tizzie

Article by Mark Etinger

How do you want to be remembered when you’re gone? What would you like engraved on your tombstone? Something witty? Sorrowful? Inspiring? Poetic? Religious? Defiant? There are so many options, the only thing that everyone seems to agree on when it comes to memorial plaques is brevity. Write a 500-page memoir before you go, if you want, or hire someone else to do it, but as far as engraving in stone or casting in bronze: make it short and memorable.

Now, this isn’t because engravers are short of patience or can’t engrave tiny enough lettering. Remember, after gravestones and memorial plaques, the most common place to find engraving is inside a wedding band.

When it comes to the end, we gravitate toward famous last words, not famous last lists or paragraphs. Think it’s a sign of contemporary culture’s ADD? Not so.

Epigrams, like so many things we prize in our culture, originated with the ancient Greeks. In Greek, “epi-gramma” means to inscribe. The Greeks placed epigrams on statues of their heroes and athletes, as well as on grave markers. Today, we refer to the ones on gravestones or memorial plaques as epitaphs.

Imagining the epitaph you might like to represent you when you’re gone can be a very healthy exercise in figuring out how you want to live now.

To get you started, here are my top ten favorite famous epitaphs from history, in no particular order, except that the first one is my favorite. So in no particular order after that.

1. My all time favorite is Frank O’Hara’s, a line taken from one of his poems, “Grace to be born and live as variously as possible.”

2. Although it was not used, Ernest Hemingway proposed the following epitaph for his tombstone: “Pardon me for not getting up.”

3. Winston Churchill, ever fierce: I am ready to meet my Maker. / Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal / of meeting me is another matter.

4. Virginia Woolf, full of mystery and sadness: AGAINST YOU I WILL FLING MYSELF / UNVANQUISHED AND UNYIELDING, O DEATH!

5. Jesse James, defiant (and beloved even though he was an outlaw): MURDERD BY A TRAITOR AND A COWARD WHOSE / NAME IS NOT WORTHY TO APPEAR HERE

6. Bette Davis, still winking: SHE DID IT THE HARD WAY

7. Frank Sinatra, ready for his encore: THE BEST IS YET TO COME (no, not “He did it his way.”)

8. W.H. Auden wrote these philosophical lines that appears on the Unknown Soldier’s grave:   To save your world you asked this man to die: / Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?

9. Karl Marx kept on with his cause: WORKERS OF ALL LANDS UNITE. / THE PHILOSOPHERS HAVE ONLY INTERPRETED THE WORLD IN VARIOUS WAYS; THE POINT IS TO CHANGE IT

10. Why not finish with Dean Martin, a generous and funny guy: EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY SOMETIME

And you? And me? What will it be?

About the Author

At http://www.jeii.com you can find Donor Walls, Tree of Life, Donor Plaques and other ways to express your sincere appreciation, while encouraging future donations.

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