About one year ago, on 5 July 2018, I was on a tour of the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin. Among the obligatory stops on such a trip is St. Kevin’s Church at Glendalough, and if you go that way, I urge you to pay your respects at the grave of Eddie Stakem and his family, for they have erected an astonishing and wonderful monument. Take a minute to observe its parts before you try to comprehend this complex memorial.

Stakem Family Monument, St. Kevin’s Monastary, Glendalough, IRE. Photo: author.

Here I am interested in the permanent structure. To begin with, you will see a large headstone with a celtic cross, all in a black stone that is used throughout the monument. A border in stone marks the boundaries of the plot, sized for one person. About two-thirds of the way from the headstone to the foot of the grave there is a secondary monument in the form of an open book raised on a small plinth. One will miss an important element unless one gets closer to the headstone:

Stakem Family Monument, St. Kevin’s Monastary, Glendalough, IRE. Photo: author.

Roughly centered in the space between the book and the headstone is a third commemorative piece of the monument, a heart attached to a block in front drilled to receive flowers. It then becomes apparent that there is another such block for flowers in front of the book. The bed of earth exposed behind the book is paved with white gravel, black stones polished to match the stone of the monument giving energy through contrast. The space before the book is filled with flowers planted in naked earth. The monument as a whole is anchored in cement, which can be seen poking out beyond the bounding course of stones.

This monument was apparently erected on the occasion of the death of Eddie Stakem, who died too young, in 2009. The heartfelt grief of the occasion prompted the construction of a complex monument, and that offered the opportunity to commemorate other members of the family. Put another way, the evidence points to this being Eddie’s grave, and it being also a cenotaph for the others mentioned. The commemorative text on the headstone is unexceptional, and indeed typical in that the family explicitly claims credit for the monument.

Between the texts on the headstone and the heart one seems to deduce that James Stakem (d. 1963) begat Edward Stakem (d. 1970); he in turn begat an unknown number of children, and that a male of that anonymous generation begat Eddie (1969-2009). If Eddie was about 40 at the time of his early death, one imagines the anonymous generation was between 60 and 70 when the monument was created.

On the recto of the open book, beneath some images of things precious to Eddie in life and his photograph, there is a short text of commemoration (I’ve added the punctuation): Precious memories of our Dear Son and Brother. Love and miss you always. Gone but never forgotten.

The glory of the monument as a whole is the poem that runs down the verso. I absolutely refuse to disturb the arrangements of grief on a tomb, but from other photos I’ve made out the entire text of the poem. I’ve added punctuation and arranged the verses as I think they were intended. The symbol / marks a line break on the stone that falls at mid-verse. Orthography as on the stone. The numbers that follow count syllables.

Dear Angel,

I know you are busy with / the good things you do, 7/5 = 12

But if you could spare time / I’d be grateful to you, 6/6 = 12

To seek out in Heaven to / the one that we miss, 7/5 = 12

And give Eddie our letter, / sealed with a kiss. 7/4 = 11

It wasn’t his fault that he / had to go: 7/3 = 10

Tell him don’t worry, and / please let him know 6/4 = 10

That he was one of a kind 7

And he’ll always be in / our heart and in our mind. 6/6 = 12

So please read Eddie these / words in our letter, 6/5 = 11

And tell him we love him / for ever and ever. 6/6 = 12

This poem reminds me of many Roman verse epitaphs. There I think irregularities emerge because the poet is familiar with poetry from reading it but he or she lacks a professional acquaintance with it and hence discipline. I was genuinely on the fence about the versification around what I’ve made verses 7-8. It came down to the rhyme for me, kind-mind. If I’m right, it was clever of the poet to make the single 7-syllable verse match its content of “one of a kind.”

Elsewhere the verses tend toward lines of about 12 syllables. Where they fall short I think they are meant to reach the desired length through pauses one could mark with caesuras or with word rhythms that lengthen syllables. The short verse 7 could be read as (borrowing a term) spondaic and almost 11 or 12 syllables in spoken length. The comma I’ve put in verse 4 marks a caesura I think lengthens the verse to 12. I feel pauses in 5 after ‘fault’ and ‘had,’ bringing the total to 12. There is surely a caesura in verse 6 after ‘worry,’ and ‘please’ seems meant to have an extended or emphatic pronunciation. Likewise, verse 9 seems to call for a pause or caesura after ‘Eddie.’

On the other hand, it’s not hard to find the poet using expedients to reach his or her 12: the second ‘to’ in verse 3 is otiose, and the rhythm is cocked up in verse 8 by the otiose ‘and our.’ The sentiment is pure and demotic.

Since I was unwilling to disturb the grave I was unable to inspect the final elements: a small stone marker in front of the recto page of the book amid the flowers ( I can make out ‘Brother’), and a text on the front of the frontmost block of stone drilled for flowers behind the salt shaker.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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