How still and peaceful is the grave
In which we all must lie:
For though we thoughtless here walk on
We all know we must die.
Where would I EVER be reading stuff like that? On Scottish gravestones of course—the back of gravestones to be exact. I was walking in Howff cemetery in Dundee on Wednesday and was surprised to find that there was writing on the back of many of the stones. The engravings seem to fall into three categories: Cautionary, Comforting, Confusing or a blend.
I’ve transcribed them exactly as they appear on the gravestones which makes think commas, periods and especially question marks must have cost extra.
Remember man as you pass by,
As you are now So once was I
As I am now So must you be
Remember man that you must Die.
There were several of these with the main thought being, “Don’t be so smug, sucker, you’ll end up here too.”
Improve the present hour
And unto Jesus fly,
Another day you may not have
Remember all must die.
This one I interpret to mean, “Get right with Jesus now because you could croak any minute. Don’t forget that you will at some point.”
Death spreads like winter’s frozen arms
And beauty smiles no more.
And where are now those rising charms
Which pleased our eyes before.
“Remember those ‘rising charms’? Where are they now, pal? Huh, huh?”
Why do we morn departing ____
Or shake at death alarms.
Tis but the voice that Jesus sends
To call them to His arms.
“Hey! Why are you all upset? That wasn’t pneumonia but the voice of Jesus! I’m in His arms now so it’s all good.”
I am not lost but gone before.
“No worries! I’ve just gone ahead.” This person will be there to greet me, show me around, introduce me. How nice. It’s also slightly cautionary since it implies “gone before YOU,” and that you’ll be coming too
Through stormy seas of trouble past,
I’ve found a peaceful Shore:
From tempests Safe, I’m now at last,
And leave my port no more.
“Enough with all that dangerous sailing around in stormy waters! I’m on shore now and I’m not going anywhere.”
Afflictions sore and so severe
Physictions were in vain
Till God did please
To give them ease.
And free them of their pain.
Honestly, it says, “physictions” which I take to mean doctors, medicine, etc. I think this is something many of us can relate to: “Enough with the treatment already. Please let me go.” A case for Death with Dignity.
Light is the mould upon my breast
No sound disturbs my peaceful rest
No friends I mourn no cures I have
No pains no sorrow in the grave.
I must admit the image that comes to mind is a body in a casket with just some light “mould” on it. No real decomposing going on there. Also no mourning, pain or sorrow—just rest. .
(True fact: I Googled the first line of this because I thought perhaps it was Samuel Colerididge. Google gave me: “Environmental triggers for breast cancer. Indoor mold, toxigenic Fungi and Stachybotrys.”)
Good God. on what a slender
thread or on what a moment
of time hang everlasting
Yes, there was a comma after this. I looked around in vain for another clause but then decided the thought was complete without it. Maybe, like God, this person is still speaking. Perhaps it is not so much confusing as thought provoking. Same with this next one:
Reader: How important
The interests of Eternity.
This appears on two gravestones but on the first one the “impor” was broken off. So I stood wondering if the interests of Eternity were “constant” or “instant” or “blatant.” So relieved to find this quote intact.
The grave dissolves each social tie
And tells us too that we must die.
And then corruption see:–
Happy they are whose hopes do rise
High as the honours of the skies,
Where joys immortal be.
Stating the obvious: you can’t be social with the dead. I believe that you can’t have a relationship in a tangible way but death sure doesn’t mean your relationship with a person is over. Then of course the warning that we all must die and encouragement to put your hope in God.
The feeble babe the hoary head.
Must all be numbered with the dead
And in the grave must lie:
Till the last trumpet rend the skies.
And thus proclaim;-ye dead arise:
The judgment great draws nigh.
This one is similar; a warning, “You’re all gonna die.” But then, woo-hoo, Judgment Day and we’ll all arise.
I appreciate the reminder of death– I really do. It puts things in perspective when you stop to think, “This could be my last day.” Wow, really? Then I don’t want to waste it being cranky, ungrateful, unforgiving or self-centered.
Also, on my gravestone—if I had one because so far, I’ve chosen cremation—I’d want not RIP, but PIP: Play In Peace.