Figure 1. Seal monument. Mt. Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, VA. Photo: author.

JULIA A.
wife of
JOHN M. SEAL
departed this life
November 30,
1865,
aged 27 Years, 6
Months & 8 days.

Julia Seal went the way of all flesh, and her husband, who was five years older and died six years later, is buried nearby. He caused a memento mori to be placed on her headstone (figure 1) which boldly attempts to rhyme gone with soon.

Alas, she has left us, her spirit has fled,
Her body now slumbers along with the dead.
Her savior hath called her, to him she has gone,
Be ye also ready to follow her soon.

The meter is interesting, 12-beat lines of 6 + 5. Technically, they are well assembled from that viewpoint:

Alás she has léft us     her spírit has fléd
Her bódy now slúmbers     alóng with the déad.
Her sávior hath cálled her,     to hím she has góne,
Be yé also réady     to fóllow her sóon.

The poem is a commonplace. See it on the monument of Lucretia Harrell (died 1864); on an anonymous grave here; on the grave of Juanita Wallace Brabham (died 1909); Sarah Lucinda Mills (died 1890); Araminta Speights (died 1867); Eliza D. Raine (died 1856); Mary S. Airhart Griffith (died 1892); Susan Sackett Winans (died 1869); and Elizabeth Ruble (died 1889); Jane S. Storer (died 1858); Matilda Buford Traxter (died 1876) Elizabeth Grigsby (died 1854). The list could be continued at length, but it seems likely that this doggerel made it into the handbooks offering suggestions for epitaphs for the grieving available through undertakers and cemeteries in the mid-nineteenth century (not later than 1854) and quickly became popular. I haven’t found an example outside of the United States yet.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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