Saturday, September 3, 2011

Epitaph: When God shall give her wings

The gravestone for Parthenia A. Flaisig (d. 1849) has no decoration, not even the simplest frame around the inscription. But the lovely epitaph, taken from a 19th-century children’s poem, has been sweetly personalized.

Parthenia A.,
daughter of
Samuel & Wilmoth
O, A, Flaisig.
born & died.
August, 2,
How beautiful will Parthenia be.
When God shall give her wings.
Above this dying world to flee.
And live with heavenly things.

Parthenia’s epitaph is from the poem “Mother, what is Death” by Caroline Howard Gilman (b. 1794, d. 1888), an American writer and poet.

“Mother, how still the baby lies!
I cannot hear his breath;
I cannot see his laughing eyes—
They tell me this is death.

My little work I thought to bring,
And sat down by his bed,
And pleasantly I tried to sing—
They hushed me—he is dead.

They say that he again will rise,
More beautiful than now;
That God will bless him in the skies—
O, mother, tell me how!”

“Daughter, do you remember, dear,
The cold, dark thing you brought,
And laid upon the casement here,—
A withered worm, you thought?

I told you that Almighty power
Could break that withered shell,
And show you, in a future hour,
Something would please you well.

Look at the chrysalis, my love,—
An empty shell it lies;—
Now raise your wondering glance above,
To where yon insect flies!”

“O, yes, mamma! how very gay
Its wings of starry gold!
And see! it lightly flies away
Beyond my gentle hold.

O, mother, now I know full well,
If God that worm can change,
And draw it from this broken cell,
On golden wings to range,—

How beautiful will brother be,
When God shall give
him wings,
Above this dying world to flee,
And live with heavenly things!”

Fargo Methodist Episcopal Cemetery, Morrow County, Ohio


  1. Thank you so much for finding all these wonderful poems....
    It never fails to surprise me, how the Victorian turn of phrase could sound so insensitive at times, describing a deceased baby as 'a withered worm'. Apart from a tight bodice, it's no wonder that women of this era fainted a lot.


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