Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sunday Scribblings--Chronicle

Two days ago, I visited a cemetery. I looked at headstones of people born in the 19th century who died when my grandparents were young. They were not related to me, although in the relatively small world of the Jewish Diaspora, some of them may have been. I have no family buried in the cemetery.
But the urge came upon me to somehow chronicle the life of someone buried there. Perhaps it was the poignancy of so many graves and so many forgotten lives. On a winter's day, there was little evidence that the graves had been visited. Only one grave had flowers although others had evidence of plantings, now dead for the winter. Some were well tended but families can pay in advance to keep graves tended in perpetuity. Others were covered in weed and snow or falling over. Some of the most precarious of the stones had labels warning the unwary to stand clear.
Later, at home, I looked at some of the names on the internet, curious to find out if they appeared in someone's genealogy search, without any luck. This did not come as a surprise for it was just a casual scan. So the tenants of the graves I photographed remain a mystery.
This mystery appeals to me. It is with a certain sadness that I note that some people's lives are forgotten a few generations later. All the headstone inscriptions that say a loved one will not be forgotten seem in vain. But the stones and in some cases the photographs remain for strangers to ponder.
I am not the first to write poems about the long forgotten. From dim memories of my high school days, I dredged up the name of Edgar Lee Masters in his Spoon River Anthology. Here I reprint one such epitaph-poem.

Cassius Hueffer

THEY have chiseled on my stone the words:
“His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him
That nature might stand up and say to all the world,
This was a man.”
Those who knew me smile
As they read this empty rhetoric.

My epitaph should have been:
“Life was not gentle to him,
And the elements so mixed in him
That he made warfare on life,
In the which he was slain.”
While I lived I could not cope with slanderous tongues,
Now that I am dead I must submit to an epitaph
Graven by a fool!

For space considerations, I am sharing my tribute to the lost on the next post.


Paris Parfait said...

Interesting and unexpected take on the prompt. Family histories can prove fascinating.

Regina Clare Jane said...

It's interesting how we think that we can sum up someone's life by putting an epitaph on their gravestone... sad, really, to be reduced to a sentence or two.
A very heartfelt post... thank you...

Liza's Eyeview said...

epitaph..a summary of our lives' chronicles.

Thank you for such a thought provoking post.

gautami tripathy said...

I have found cemetery to be peaceful places where all are equal in the eyes of GOD. I wrote something on it long time back. I reaaly can relate to what you write here.


GeL (Emerald Eyes) said...

Hi Sarala,

Your post struck me hard because I lost so much (rather too much) of my family to Hitler because of being Jewish. I also want cemeteries tended to lovingly, no matter whether those buried there are my family or not. Excellent choice of poem to quote, too.

Your post stirred up devastating memories of a time, I visited a cemetery knowing family was there and was horrified to discover that it was unkempt: weeds and worse grown over; we could not hike over to some of the stones. I was young and had no idea then that many cemetaries fall to the same fate. So sad, in fact, deplorable, as you chronicle so well here.
We recently met via Poetry Thursday. (I just wrote my first Sunday Scribblings post and hope you visit. It is not the "Tuesday Afternoon Tunes post" although you're more than welcome to read that. It's the one underneath it, or please click "Sunday Scribblings" in my sidebar and the proper post will appear on the page.

Pepper said...

I love cemeteries and spend a lot of time in the city of the dead.

I have taken a lot of photographs of headstones, statues, and wrote down some of the epitaths on the tombstones.

Like you I do a search on the names I find. I am the family historian and have two subscriptions to genealogical sites so I have been successful in locating family members. Most of the time they want the picture which I send no charge.

At one time there was someone who cared deeply for the deceased. Cared enough to pay the cost of a headstone and a few token words. I see a cemetery as a place where love is immortalized, a place of hope, a quiet sanctuary for the living and not a place of sadness.

Good post.