Brief Extracts from the Best Poems, suitable to accompany Tomb-Stone Inscriptions

Every inscription on tomb-stones may appropriately be accompanied by an epitaph, which should be expressive yet very brief. Formerly it was customary oftentimes to inscribe several stanzas of poetry upon the headstone. With the improved taste of later years, however, it is considered best to condense the epitaph into a few words, usually not exceeding four lines in length.

The following appropriate stanzas for epitaphs are culled from the best poems:

“Death, thou art but another birth,
Freeing the spirit from the
clogs of earth.”

Victorian illustration of a Gothic headstone in a hilly graveyard with angels above.

Victorian illustration of a Gothic graveyard and a moldering grave, from an 1859 edition of “An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray. Click if you are not afraid to take a closer look!

“Ay, hold it true, whate’er befall,
And feel it, when we sorrow most,
‘T is better to have loved and lost,
Than to have never loved at all.”

“Shed not for her the bitter tear,
Nor give the heart to vain regret;
‘T is but the casket that lies here,
The gem that filled it sparkles yet.”

“Sheltered and safe from sorrow.”

“Ere sin could harm, or sorrow fade,
Death came with friendly care;
The opening bud to heaven conveyed,
And bade it blossom there.”

“Happy infant, early blest!
Rest, in peaceful slumbers, rest.”

“O Death! Where is thy sting
O Grave! Where is thy victory?”

“Heaven’s eternal year is thine.”

“Because I lived, ye shall live also.”

“Of such is the kingdom of Heaven”

“This lovely bud, so young, so fair,
Called hence by early doom,
Just came to show how sweet a flower
In Paradise would bloom.”

“Suffer little children to come
unto me.”

“There, in the Shepherd’s bosom,
White as the drifted snow,
Is the little lamb we missed one morn,
From the household flock below.”

“Sweet flower, transplanted to a clime
Where never comes the blight of time.”

“So the bird of my bosom fluttered up
to the dawn,
A window was opened—
my darling was gone!
A truant from time, from tears,
and from sin,
For the angel on watch took
the wanderer in.”

“From meadows fanned by heaven’s life-breathing wind,
In the resplendence of that
glorious sphere,
And larger movements of
the unfettered mind,
Come darling, oft, and
meet me here.”

“She was but as a smile,
Which glistens in a tear,
Seen but a little while,
But, oh! How loved, how dear!”

“We loved her.”

“We only know that thou hast gone,
And that the same returnless tide,
Which bore thee from us, still glides on,
And we, who mourn thee, with it glide.”

“There shall be no night there.”

“Green be the turf above thee,
Friend of my better days;
None knew thee but to love thee,
Nor named thee but to praise.”

“I know his face it hid
Under the coffin lid;
Closed are his eyes; cold is his forehead fair.
My hand that marble felt,
O’er it in prayer I knelt;
Yet my heart whispers that—
he is not here.”

“Where immortal spirits reign,
There we shall meet again.”

“A happier lot than ours, and larger light, surrounds thee there.”

“Gone to a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign;
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain.”

“Though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for
Thou art with me.”

“Here I lay my burden down,
Change the cross into the crown.”

“Known and unknown, human, divine,
Sweet darling hand and lips and eyes;
Dear heavenly one, thou canst not die,
Mine, mine forever, ever mine.”
“Death loves a shining mark.”

“Life’s duty done, as sinks the day,
Light from its load the spirit flies;
While heaven and earth combine to say,
How blest the righteous when he dies.”

“He giveth his beloved sleep.”

“Gone before us, O our brother,
To the spirit land!
Vainly look we for another,
In thy place to stand.”

“Her children rise up and
call her blessed.”

“She was but as a smile,
Which glistens in a tear,
Seen but a little while,
But, oh! How loved, how dear!”

“Far off thou art, but ever nigh;
I have thee still, and I rejoice.”

“To us for sixteen anxious months,
His infant smile was given,
And then he bade farewell to earth
And went to live in heaven.”

“Triumphant smiles the victor’s brow,
Fanned by some angel’s purple wing.
Where is, O grave, thy victory now?
And where, insidious death, thy sting?”

“Thy rod and Thy staff,
they comfort me.”

“Sweet is the scene when virtue dies!
When sinks a righteous soul to rest,
How mildly beam the closing eyes,
How gently heaves the expanding breast!”

These Victorian headstone inscriptions and epitaphs are from Hill’s Manual, 1873.

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