Figure 1. Benjamin Eugitt monument, Bethel Cemetery, Wilkes Street Complex, Alexandria, VA. Photo: author.

DIED DEC. 6, 1888.
In his 21st year.

The anagraphic data’s dull recitation of facts does not prepare us for one of the simplest, most heartfelt codas I can remember seeing on a tombstone (figure 2):

Figure 2. Benjamin Eugitt monument, Bethel Cemetery, Wilkes Street Complex, Alexandria, VA. Detail: coda. Photo: author.

“Oh for the touch of a
vanished hand,
For the sound of a voice
that is still.”

You will immediately notice the quotation marks, and you may be suspicious of the quality of the poetry. In fact, it transpires that this is part of a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Break, Break, Break. We do not need to laboriously go through the meter and rhyming scheme, since there is no doubt about Tennyson’s greatness.

But the two verses here were so obviously adapted to the grief surrounding death that it’s no surprise that there is another monument in Georgia that adopts the verses as shown by S. Lincecum on her Southern Graves website. In fact, a casual search turns up many other nineteenth- and early twentieth-century examples.

I’ve seen a lot of funerary doggerel in recent weeks. “A man’s got to know his limitations,” said Dirty Harry, and man or woman, it’s good to see someone here grabbing something appropriate from a master rather than trusting to their unaided powers.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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