Sometimes when you go through your pictures I assume you discover things you didn’t notice at the time of the snap, as I did here. This is the monument of John Yarrow, born in London, 1800, died in Savannah, 1855. It’s ridiculous.

John Yarrow monument, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia. 1855. Photo: author.

Please forgive the grainy photo: It’s been blown up a lot. It is a large serifed Y with a cross affixed loosely to it and an ivy plant taking hold, in danger of dislodging the cross. One imagines the conceit of the crumbling Y is that time has passed this man by, and his memory fades as nature takes its course. Time and a vine are doing aboveground what first death, and then time and bacteria have done with Yarrow himself underground. This is a widespread idea, expressed even more dramatically in another monument in the same cemetery about three years later:

Stewart monument, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, 1858. Photo: author.

The Y is not just a monogram on a grave; it is a metaphorical portrait of Yarrow symbolizing his mortal remains, and his life, and his legacy, and his memory. But it is ridiculous, for the chance assignment of a given letter as an initial is surely one of the least interesting and significant things about a person.

In any event, it strongly reminds me of a bit of grave poetry Paul Fussell quoted in Class:

God took dad home; it was his will—
But why that way, we wonder still.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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