I Leave You With These Words:
September 3, 2002 4:56 AM   Subscribe

I Leave You With These Words: If you've ever thought about making a will, why not devote some time to composing your epitaph? It'll probably be the last people will hear from you. The Epitaph Browser is full of good and famous examples and might give you the push you need to get cracking. There are far too many to read and I just looked for writers I liked, but my favourite is from a gentleman resting in peace in Nova Scotia:
Here lies Ezekiel Aikle, Age 102, The Good Die Young.
posted by MiguelCardoso (62 comments total)
[Please be gentle with me. It's my first MetaFilter anniversary today. No, I hope it's not too abusive (since I'm not about to die) to thank you all here for the fun and wisdom you've brought me this past year. Cheers!]
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:00 AM on September 3, 2002

Tell the Trojans
We Obeyed
Their Last Orders-
Here We Stayed

I like it, but I cant find it again on the web (help?)
Its so simple, yey conveys so much
posted by HeadSessions at 5:12 AM on September 3, 2002

I've always loved what Kipling put on the graves of the undifentified English dead from WWI:

"A Soldier Of The Great War - Known Unto God"

Gets me every time.
posted by fluffy1984 at 5:36 AM on September 3, 2002

Uh, that should have read 'unidentified.' Although they probably weren't 'difentified' either.
posted by fluffy1984 at 5:38 AM on September 3, 2002

Fluffy 1984: it gets me too, given the circumstances (for those who might not know) in which he lost his son John.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:42 AM on September 3, 2002

I like Keats:
"Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water."
posted by bramoire at 5:42 AM on September 3, 2002

Another tear-jerker, bramoire. Though, again, some people might not know he died when he was only 26, having lost his father when he was 8 and his mother when he was 14...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:49 AM on September 3, 2002

i came.
i saw.
i ranted.
posted by quonsar at 5:49 AM on September 3, 2002

here's a nice (abusive) acrostic epitaph, hope to hell it wasn't posted here before, it's the sort of thing that would be.
here 'tis
posted by kev23f at 5:51 AM on September 3, 2002

I quite liked spike milligan's epitaph:

"I told you I was ill"
posted by johnnyboy at 6:02 AM on September 3, 2002

I found this one on an ancient headstone in the Old Dutch Church cemetary in Hurley, NY:

"Neglect me not as you pass by
As you are now so once was I;
As I am now you soon shall be--
Prepare! my friend, to follow me."

Always my favorite. Sorry, I forget whose stone it was, but if I ever travel home I might be able to find it again.
posted by Cerebus at 6:22 AM on September 3, 2002

"If you can read this, you're standing on my grave" would be quite nice in 18pt.
posted by nickonomicon at 6:30 AM on September 3, 2002

Cerebus, "it has been oft copied and rewritten". Traveling home once in a while is still a good idea, though.
posted by thijsk at 6:34 AM on September 3, 2002

My grandfather, a true liver-of-life, has the following inscribed upon his headstone:

"It's been fun... until now."

It caused some hand-wringing among his second wife, but, in the end, his children convinced her that it was the rigth thing to do. It never ceases make me chuckle every time I visit.
posted by zpousman at 6:43 AM on September 3, 2002

A liver-of-life

Zpousman: you've just given me my epitaph!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:55 AM on September 3, 2002

It's not the Trojans, HeadSessions; it was the Spartans whose grave is here. Simonides of Kos wrote it, I think.

One (bad) translation common on the net is this:
"Tell it in Sparta, thou that passes by
Here, faithful to her charge, her soldiers lie."

The plain prose, according to the Perseus translation of Herodotus, is just: "Foreigner, go tell the Spartans that we lie here obedient to their commands."

The epitaph I want comes from Rochester:

"Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,
who was so proud, so witty, and so wise."
posted by alloneword at 6:57 AM on September 3, 2002

Here Lies Jim Moore
Shot to Death With a .44
No Jim, No More
posted by Pressed Rat at 7:05 AM on September 3, 2002

posted by eyere at 7:14 AM on September 3, 2002

An epitaph in Grafton, VT.

"In memory of Ebenezer Tinney
who died march 12, 1813
age 81 years

My Glass is Rum"

and a b-day one for miguel

the TOMBSTONE of an ancient roman tool manufactuerer advertised his entire line of products.

Believe or Not
posted by clavdivs at 7:51 AM on September 3, 2002

My current favorite (credit Juliet for bringing it back from Southwark Cathedral in London): "The world to her was but a traged play/She came and saw't, dislik't, and pass'd away."
posted by gleuschk at 7:51 AM on September 3, 2002

[no carrier]à
posted by sennoma at 7:52 AM on September 3, 2002

Miguel, this suppose to be fun! Welcome to The Merry Cemetery, Sapinta, Romania. What do you think? Would you choose an inscription about MeFi?
posted by MzB at 8:09 AM on September 3, 2002

I want mine to read either:
"Jeez, it's hot down here."
"I told you I was sick."
posted by Hugh2d2 at 8:12 AM on September 3, 2002

Here it is, eyre.
This one made something shoot out of my nose when I first saw it. It's from Worth1000, so I assume it's a Photoshop, but it would make a good tombstone for a coder with a sense of humor.
posted by planetkyoto at 8:13 AM on September 3, 2002

MzB: looks like more fun than an Irish wake!

Btw, my revised epitaph for today would be:

Matt may have deleted
My MeTa post
But I lived,
Sort of.

posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:15 AM on September 3, 2002

aye aye, alloneword, Simonides and the Spartans.

The stanza refers to the battle of Thermopylae, when a band of 300 Spartans and 5000 other Greeks under King Leonidas fought against more than ten thousand Persians. Every time the Persians would try to get through the narrow pass, they'd be slaughtered, but of course, there was a traitor who showed them the way around. When it became clear that the Greeks would lose, the 300 Spartans (and 700 Thebans) vowed to remain to fight, so that the rest could escape. The odds were against them, even without treachery, as they knew going into battle, but they managed to hold the pass long enough to delay the Persians so that the Athenian navy could muster its strength to win the battle of Salamis, the decisive battle in the Persian-Greek war of 480 B.C.E.
Herodotus made the episode famous in prose, while Simonides immortalized it in pseudo-epitaph.

Cicero translated it famously as,

Dic, hospes, Spartae, nos te hic vidisse iacentes
dum sanctis patriae legibus obsequimur.

Schiller's German was also pretty tough:

Wanderer, kommst Du nach Sparta,
erkuendige dorten, Du habest uns hier liegen gesehen,
wie das Gesetz es befah
posted by jann at 8:31 AM on September 3, 2002

Wow, jann - what a great first comment. And you joined today, same day as me!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:39 AM on September 3, 2002

Pressed Rat: The guy's name is Les Moore -- that's part of the joke, of course. Down this page there's a photo of the actual tombstone.

For touching epitaphs (as opposed to clever), I like Mark Twain's epitaph to his young daughter, Suzy Clemens:

Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
Green sod above, lie light, lie light-
Good-night, dear heart, good-night, good-night.
posted by coelecanth at 8:43 AM on September 3, 2002

MzB: looks like more fun than an Irish wake!

The cemetery itself, yes. But the rituals are somehow more sober, a quiet party, if you like, but still a party (scroll down to the end).
posted by MzB at 8:49 AM on September 3, 2002

what's more fun than an Irish wake you ask? ... Irish wakeboarding!
posted by eyere at 8:56 AM on September 3, 2002

I submit this is the coolest (or at least the most laconic) of them all. It was found in Bedlington Churchyard, Durham:

Poems and epitaphs are but stuff:
Here lies Robert Burrows, that's enough.

posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:10 AM on September 3, 2002

Here lies Adam...

...motherfucking DUH.

posted by adampsyche at 9:14 AM on September 3, 2002

Here lies Miguel,
The Portuguese MetaFilter mite.
He posted way too much
And it serves him fuckin' well right.

posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:26 AM on September 3, 2002

Remember me is all I ask,
and should remembrance
prove too hard a task-
forget me.

posted by quercus at 9:39 AM on September 3, 2002

There's always Yeats' translation of Swift's epitaph:

"Swift has sailed into his rest; Savage indignation there Cannot lacerate his breast. Imitate him if you dare, World-bestotted traveller; he Served human liberty."--W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)

Or if that kind of thing isn't for you, there's always dear old W.C. Fields:

"All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

A sentiment we can all get behind, except for those who live in Philly of course. Also, many dead people might disagree.
posted by fluffy1984 at 10:02 AM on September 3, 2002

thanks, miguel!

Somehow I managed to butcher the last word, ironically.
It should have been 'befahl'.

Oh, for shame.
posted by jann at 10:04 AM on September 3, 2002

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity´s long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.

Oscar Fingall O´Flahertie Wills Wilde

According to some his last words were, Ah, well, then I suppose I shall have to die beyond my means. Also, from his deathbed, he said, I am in a duel to the death with this wallpaper, one of us has got to go.

and I can't resist this from A Woman of No Importance -

The soul is born old but grows young. That is the comedy of life. And the body is born young and grows old. That is life's tragedy.
posted by y2karl at 10:08 AM on September 3, 2002

Here lies TJ
The monkeys finally caught up to him

posted by tj at 10:12 AM on September 3, 2002

I'll settle for "Let her R.I.P."
posted by Tarrama at 10:16 AM on September 3, 2002

Here lies TJ
The monkeys finally caught up to him

Y'all realize this will taken down and used against you, dontcha? They don't call it Miranda fer nothin', ya know...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:21 AM on September 3, 2002

We only come to sleep, only to dream.
It is not true,
it is not true that we come to live on this earth!
We become as spring weeds,
we grow green and open the petals of our hearts;
our body is a plant in flower,
it gives flowers and it dies away.

Oh, we will go...rejoice!
I, Netzahualcóyotl, say.
Does one really live with roots in this earth?
Not always on this earth,
only a little while here!
Even jade breaks;
just as gold breaks,
Even the quetzal plumes fall apart:
Not always on this earth,
only a little while here!

posted by vacapinta at 10:25 AM on September 3, 2002

In Oakdale Cemetery (the big cemetery around these parts) there is a grave for a dog, which reads, in part, "He was the only dog we ever knew who attended church every Sunday." Which is pretty good, I guess, if you're a dog.

I've always said that my gravestone will read Alien Here ever since I realized that it was an anagram of my (real) name.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:31 AM on September 3, 2002

Earl Heine, a descendant of the great poet Heinrich?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:35 AM on September 3, 2002

What words could possibly separate me from the legions of nameless dead? Those who would remember will remember, and the rest need not be bothered.

So, I'm getting cremated. Strip me for parts such as can be used, then spread the ashes were you will.
posted by UncleFes at 10:45 AM on September 3, 2002

Remembered from a visit to Westminster Abbey years ago:

Here lies Hawkins
Without his shoes and stawkins [stockings]


Here lies Fred
He is dead
There's nothing more to be said.
posted by rjs at 10:45 AM on September 3, 2002

nickonomicon - I favour the same gag, but the writing says "Get off my face". And in 14 pt.
posted by Grangousier at 11:06 AM on September 3, 2002

If you want to be boastful (and also a liar) John O' Hara's epitaph is suitably in-your-face annoying (for writers anyway...)

Than Anyone Else
He Told The Truth
About His Time.
He Was
A Professional.
He Wrote
Honestly and Well.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:11 AM on September 3, 2002

while i liked oscar wilde's epitaph, i think his (purported) dying last words were better. "Either that wallpaper goes, or I do." i think that was one of my yearbook quotes when i graduated from high school. oy, i can't even imagine trying to sustain that level of teen angst today.
posted by henriettachicken at 11:22 AM on September 3, 2002

I often go for walks at Lakeview Cemetery, where the graves of Bruce and Brandon Lee are like a hero's shrine where people leave flowers, coins and letters every day.

The graves of children are the most remarkable: there's the grave of a baby that lived less than a week in the early 1970s that has new pinwheels and fresh flowers on it* every week, a massive monument to a girl of 12 who died in an epidemic at the turn of the century with her father's name larger and more legible than hers and the one that gets me--a small marker also of turn of the century vintage for another 12 year old that's a small tree stump with a dead dove lying beside it in marble that reads Our Son. Oh, there is the epitaph for a pioneer mother--She Did What She Could.

Graveyards and memorials are for the survivors and the expression and persistence of their grief is what fascinates me the most about them. I would choose Keats epitaph for my own as well, and add on a hot skillet perhaps.

*A sidenote--the construction of personal shrines with flowers and toys is a cultural phenomenom that's taken off here in the U.S. of late. The one built at the International Fountain in the Seattle Center for the victims of September 11th was incredible. I saw another one recently for a construction worker who was accidentally electrocuted in my old neighborhood. Has anyone else here noted this trend toward folk memorials?
posted by y2karl at 11:52 AM on September 3, 2002

Henriettachicken: it's so cool you joined MetaFilter in August 2000 and have made only three comments so far; two of them today and one of them here. Forgive me if I remember your first comment, from June of this year:

"It shouldn't matter what anyone thinks about who you love, no matter what their race, religion, or class. as if there's much choice in the matter. regardless of how some of these interracial relationships begin, if there isn't a real meaningful connection between 2 individuals to provide a good foundation then i don't think it lasts for too long. and if it does, well then so be it. it's just as common and no less "wrong" for an asian woman to stay with an asian man just because her family expects it as it is for a white guy to stay with an asian woman just because he has a fetish. other people often choose their partners for reasons we wouldn't."

Oscar Wilde is probably the other half of your soul, no mistake. :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:34 PM on September 3, 2002

How to sum up the life of an atheist, existentialist, and OpenBSD geek? Best I've come up with yet:

Truth before happiness.
posted by Ryvar at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2002

Truth before happiness

As a philosopher, Ryvar, I have to agree with that. Though philosophers say Truth is happiness. But as a Latin, where "what you don't know doesn't hurt you" is the main cultural premiss (especially if you die before finding out), I have to...agree too! You may die miserable but at least you know you don't deserve to or, given the circumstances, could do little else in the way of reacting accordingly...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:19 PM on September 3, 2002

Sade had one I liked since I heard it in an interview back in '93:

What would you like your tombstone to say?

You can dance here if you like.

posted by allaboutgeorge at 1:32 PM on September 3, 2002

I was disgusted to find that this one was not included,
"My time in the light is near"
          -Optimus Prime
posted by holloway at 1:34 PM on September 3, 2002

Just bury me with a box that screams and makes scratching noises.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:35 PM on September 3, 2002

I'm not sure if this is a real epitaph (I found it when I was little, in The World Treasury of Children's Literature vol. 3, Clifton Fadiman, ed.), but it's always been one of my favorites (odd thing to say, I know):

Beneath this stone our baby lies,
It neither cries nor hollers,
It lived but one and twenty days,
And cost us forty dollars.
posted by emmling at 3:13 PM on September 3, 2002

Pressed Rat: Not to nit pick, but i believe the actual epitaph is;

Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a .44
No Les No More.

i always liked the 'no less, no more' symmetry of that one.
posted by quin at 5:16 PM on September 3, 2002

Emmling, I think that's in the poetry treasury I had when I was a kid!

Eyere: oh, man, you got me. That is the last time I click on a SomethingAwful link in a public place . . . hee hee hee . . .

This sounds (and, in fact, is) way pretentious, but for my own epitaph, I was hoping for:

O my heart which I had from my mother! O my heart which I had from my mother! O my heart of my different ages! Do not speak against me at the Tribunal; do not make my name stink before the Entourage who make men . . .

From the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Or this Chinese saying I read once, a very long time ago:

No one has lived longer than a dead child, and P'eng Tsu* died young.
Heaven and Earth are as old as I, and the ten thousand things are one.

* where P'eng Tsu is roughly equivalent to Methuselah.
posted by Ahmose Nefertari at 6:11 PM on September 3, 2002

Reading through this makes me realise the vanity of having any epitaph at all, when any memory of you will have disappeared within a generation and your bones will be gone a few years later.

Kenneth Williams' last diary entry:

"Oh what's the bleeding point?"

I'm in nihilist mood today.
posted by Summer at 4:24 AM on September 4, 2002

....our doom
is, to be sifted by the wind,

heaped up, smoothed down like silly sands
We are less permanent than thought.
The Emperor with the Golden Hands
is still a word, a tint, a tone,
when we ourselves are dead and gone
and the green grass growing over us.

Here's a poem for you, Summer.
posted by y2karl at 4:36 AM on September 4, 2002

Thanks y2karl. I'm with Shakespeare:

Alexander died, Alexander was buried,
Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of
earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he
was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel?
Imperious Caesar, dead and turn'd to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away:
O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!
posted by Summer at 6:52 AM on September 4, 2002

Being a rather competitive person, I think something akin to 'Haha, beat you' would work for mine.
posted by emmling at 12:07 PM on September 6, 2002

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