Monday, November 21, 2011

Epitaph: Why mourn for the dead?

The sandstone marker at the grave of Nathaniel W. Barrows (d. 1844) features a large carving of a willow, but not in the usual spot at the top of the stone. Instead, both the name and the willow are carved under the date of death.

April 13, 1844,


Æt 22 yr’s. 2 mo’s. 5 d’s

Why mourn for the dead, whom the Father has taken,
Serenely they sleep in their turf covered beds,
But ah ! not forsaken for angels shall waken,
And guide them to glory, why mourn for the dead,

Though here was all sorrow anguish and weeping,
Yet rich was the seed that the husbandman shed,
And one who is keeping the field for the reaping,
Shall hallow the harvest; why mourn for the dead.

The epitaph is from the poem “Why mourn for the dead” by John S. Clark. According to Lays of the heart, a collection of Clark’s poems published in London in 1836, Clark wrote the poem “on the decease of a most amiable and deeply lamented relative, Mrs. Charles M. B—.”

Here is the complete poem, as published in 1836:

Why mourn for the dead whom the Father hath taken?
Serenely they sleep in their turf-covered bed;
But oh! not forsaken, for angels shall waken
And guide them to glove;—why mourn for the dead?

Though here all was anguish, and labour, and weeping,
Yet precious the seed that the husbandman spread!
And One who is keeping the field till the reaping
Shall hallow the harvest;—why mourn for the dead?

Oh! theirs is the “raiment of whiteness;” and never
By them shall the tears of affliction be shed;
For blessed for ever, they drink of the “river”
Of life and salvation;—why mourn for the dead?

Why mourn ye for those who are wand’ring together
In realms where the joys of the just cannot fade;
Those mansions of ether where hearts never wither,
And friends never sunder;—why mourn for the dead?

Africa Cemetery, Delaware County, Ohio

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