Into the category of “topples” falls the monument of Edgar LaBarr in Presbyterian Churchyard Cemetery of Hancock, New York.

Figure 1. LaBarr monument. Presbyterian Churchyard Cemetery, Hancock, N.Y. Photo: author.

EDGAR LaBARR
DIED
JAN. 2, 1867:
AG’D 40 Y’S, 5M’s
& 22 D’S.

The four eight-syllable verses following the anagraphic data mostly have a cadence, I think, after the 5th syllable, with the three final syllables picking up a separate but connected idea. The verses’ badness suggests their originality. Let’s have a look.

Figure 2. LaBarr monument verses. Presbyterian Churchyard Cemetery, Hancock, N.Y. Photo: author.

A while he waited the blest hour,
When pain and death should loose its power,
And now submissive to God’s will,
He sleeps in Jesus—peace be still.

The final verse with its em dash makes the scheme I envision explicit. I can’t figure out whether the second verse is a 4-4 split or 5-3 like the others. The caesura ought to be between ‘death’ and ‘should’, because ‘pain and death’, a compound subject, and ‘should loose’, a compound verb, should not be broken up. But the three syllables of ‘loose its power’ (‘pow’r) could be thought to match the three-syllable terminations ‘the blest hour’, ‘to God’s will’, and ‘peace be still’.

There are some really interesting features here. In verse 2, The poet sees ‘death’ as the senior partner in ‘pain and death’: see how its proximity caused the poet to choose the singular ‘its’. I’ve seen enough student essays not to wonder overmuch at ‘loose’ for ‘lose’ (and death ‘loosing its power’, i.e., ‘setting it loose’, would be too sophisticated for this poet, I think, and can’t work with ‘pain’). One wonders what prevented the obvious and, one would have thought, inevitable, ‘When pain and death should lose their power’.

The final verse is a head-scratcher. ‘peace’, I think, is the common shorthand for ‘keep your peace’, an elliptical imperative. ‘be still’ is another imperative in asyndeton. Still, why not punctuate ‘peace, be still’, as we find it in Mk. 4:39 (KJV), when Jesus calms the Sea of Galilee? (Mad props to my friend Doug for spotting the latter reference.)

I think here the poet was determined to insert the name of Jesus, spoiling a metrical scheme which otherwise might have paralleled verse 2, offering two couplets. How might that have gone?

Consider ‘He rests in peace—X X X X’, with X standing for a syllable. Then we’d have two couplets, each ending with a verse featuring a central caesura.

He rests in peace—now please be still. (fidgety reader?)

He rests in peace, no longer ill.

He rests in peace—under this hill.

He rests in peace—’twas Jesus’ will. (but ‘will’ clunks up the rhyme)

He rests in peace—with time to kill.

He waits in peace to pay the bill.

It’s poor verse, but interesting for seemingly being home-made. Its very faults compel our attention better than the more technically accomplished doggerel one so often finds.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: