The attractive Thompson-Simms monument features on its face (figure 1) some marvelous carved roses, including the one flower, snapped off and fallen, symbolizing life cut off. The sincere sentiment with which Helen Ceasar Thompson-Simms was bidden adieu is suggested by the subscript:

Momma,
We will love and miss you forever

But in a classic proof that one must always ‘double-tap’ and look at the rear of a monument, we find a long, almost certainly original, poetic composition there (figure 2). I mark stresses.

FOR OUR MOTHER

FIRST HÉART TO ÉVER LÓVE US
FIRST VÓICE WE ÉVER HÉARD…
ITS SÓOTHING MÚSIC BEFÓRE
WE ÚNDERSTÁND A WÓRD.

FIRST FÁCE WE LÉARNED TO
RÉCOGNÍZE, FIRST SMÍLE WE ÉVER
SÁW, EYES LÓOKING ÍNTO ÓURS
WITH LÓVE AND PRÍDE AND ÁWE.

FIRST HÁNDS TO GÚIDE OUR WÓBBLY
STÉPS OR SWÍNG US TÓ AND FRÓ,
FIRST ÁRMS TO HÓLD US SÁFE AND
SNÚG YET LÉAVE US RÓOM TO GRÓW.

FIRST CÓNFIDÁNTE TO LÍSTEN TO THE
THÍNGS WE HÁD TO SÁY, FIRST FRÍEND
TO KNÓW OUR HÓPES AND DRÉAMS.

FÍRST IN OUR HÉARTS NOW AND ÁLWAYS.

It’s iambic, by and large, with cadences familiar from greeting cards. I do not say that to disparage; rather, it is to me interesting to see a commemorator draw upon skills unconsciously learned from the environment and applying those rules in a forgivably undisciplined way.

The poet mostly sticks to three beats per verse. Here and there an extra unstressed syllable begins or ends one (vv. 1 and 13, for example). However, the poet has also refused to divide words even when the transition from one verse to the next occurs at mid-word. That’s daring and may tempt the unwary reader to think the poet less skilled than they in fact were. So, for example, in the second stanza, the metrics work like this, I think:

FIRST FÁCE WE LÉARNED TO RÉ-
COGNÍZE, FIRST SMÍLE WE ÉV-
ER SÁW, EYES LÓOKING ÍNTO ÓURS
WITH LÓVE AND PRÍDE AND ÁWE.

See also WÓB- /B LY STÉPS in the third stanza. It could be, however, that the poet consciously wanted, perhaps as a desperate measure (so to speak), to intersperse a tetrameter as needed, i.e., in lines 6, 7, 10, 12, and 13). It almost looks as though the poet was seeking to maintain an iambic rhythm without being too concerned about where verses might begin or end. Alternatively, I wonder whether the ordinator was not thinking poetically but in accordance with convenient placement on the stone. To my ear, if we take the tetrameters to be deliberate, the rhythm is made hard to follow by the beats suddenly appearing at the head of the verse/line.

The epigraph is maybe prose, like the first line, but it works as the last three feet of a hexameter, and so I’ve marked it.

The fourth stanza breaks down, of course. Perhaps the poet wanted to have the sentiments in the final line to conclude the poem and the fourth stanza. It cannot be adapted to do so as written (internal logic requires a line rhyming with ‘say’), so it was kept apart at the end. Still, one can think of nice ways to end the fourth stanza in keeping with the poet’s sentiment:

… BUT NÓW SHE’S GÓNE AWÁY.

… ALÁS SHE CÓULD NOT STÁY.

We could alternatively break down the poem into units marked by terminal rhymes and anaphora in ‘first’:

FIRST HÉART TO ÉVER LÓVE US
FIRST VÓICE WE ÉVER HÉARD…
ITS SÓOTHING MÚSIC BEFÓRE
WE ÚNDERSTÁND A WÓRD.

FIRST FÁCE WE LÉARNED TO RÉCOGNÍZE,
FIRST SMÍLE WE ÉVER SÁW,
EYES LÓOKING ÍNTO ÓURS
WITH LÓVE AND PRÍDE AND ÁWE.

FIRST HÁNDS TO GÚIDE OUR WÓBBLY STÉPS
OR SWÍNG US TÓ AND FRÓ,
FIRST ÁRMS TO HÓLD US SÁFE AND SNÚG
YET LÉAVE US RÓOM TO GRÓW.

FIRST CÓNFIDÁNTE TO LÍSTEN
TO THE THÍNGS WE HÁD TO SÁY,
FIRST FRÍEND TO KNÓW OUR HÓPES AND DRÉAMS.

Even taken thus—and it solves a number of problems—there is the wobbly verse 3 which seems to demand BÉFORE, and the weak rhythm of verse 7, especially leading with the unstressed monosyllable EYES which really takes so long to pronounce that it is effectively stressed.

Still, this poet had an intuitive feel for anaphora, and verse 8 is a respectable tricolon crescendo.

Figure 3. Diamantstein monument. Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

Diamantstein, possessor of an enviably interesting name, gets credit for having verses of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses on his monument (figure 3). His story is not much discernable from the interwebs—at least those parts of it not behind paywalls—except that he was successfully pursuing a degree at UNC in 1980. Ben seems to be a middle name here, not a filiation like Benjamin or Ben Gurion. It does seem to me a gesture toward Jewishness, which is seconded by the star of David on the stone. We can only guess at the reason for the cross, which does provoke interest in juxtaposition with the star.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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