Per Contra Spring 2009 Light Verse Supplement
A Calendar of Epitaphs
R.I.P. ROBERT SERVICE
January 16, 1874-September 11, 1958
His vein of verse was a lucky strike:
He made a fortune from the Klondike.
Though civilization made him nervous,
France saw most of Robert Service.
R.I.P. EDGAR ALLAN POE
January 19, 1809-March 24, 1882
The darkest poet of his time,
He threw a shadow over rime
And now, beneath this dome of woe,
Erato sleeps with Edgar Poe.
R.I.P. ROBERT BURNS
January 25, 1759-July 21, 1796
He wrote a poem “To a Mouse”
And yet another “To a Louse,”
But such were not his great concerns:
His lovers still love Robbie Burns.
R.I.P. LANGSTON HUGHES
February 1, 1902-May 22, 1967
He found he could write anything,
But he liked best that he could sing
And not be punished for the views
Found in the verse of Langston Hughes.
R.I.P. EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
February 22, 1892 – October 19, 1950
Edna loved both girls and guys,
A liberal policy if not wise,
For it was difficult to say
At last where Edna St. Vincent might lay.
R.I.P. WELDON KEES
February 24, 1914-July 18, 1955
The gods of Fury gave him great success —
Whatever he tried to do those gods would bless.
Therefore, to spite them all he thought he’d seize
Fate at the Golden Gate, but Death had Kees.
R.I.P. EDMUND WALLER
March 3, 1606-October 21, 1687
He managed to survive by selling out
His co-conspirators. Never devout,
A shifty man whom some would call a crawler
Was the sly survivor Edmund Waller.
R.I.P. A. E. HOUSMAN
March 26, 1859-April 30, 1936
He wasn’t good, he wasn’t bad,
He was simply always sad,
This Shropshire lad who wore a caftan
Woven of shadow, Alfred Housman.
R.I.P. ROBERT FROST
March 26, l874-January 29, 1963
Death is, of course, the Thief of Time,
Not to mention an end to rime
Which we discovered to our cost
When we were robbed of Robert Frost.
R.I.P. GEORGE HERBERT
April 3, 1593-March 1, 1633
As good a Christian as he was a man,
Of course it was a part of his Lord’s plan
To take the sacred verse that George had sung
With all his heart and wring it from his lung.
R.I.P. WILLIAM WORDSWORTH
April 7, 1770-April 23, 1850
He loved the way the language spills
From one’s quill like daffodils
That splash their colors over earth
To give the reader his Wordsworth.
R.I.P. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
23 April 1564-April 23, 1616
Word-warrior: when he was spent
He went into retirement.
Although he tried to disappear,
We still hear William shake a spear.
R.I.P. ALEXANDER POPE
21 May 1688 – 30 May 1744
De DUMP de DUMP de DUMP de DUMP de DUMP,
Ka BUMP ka BUMP ka BUMP ka BUMP ka BUMP:
One never needs to flail about or grope
To find the measure of Alexander Pope.
R.I.P. COUNTEE CULLEN
May 30, 1903-January 9, 1946
As soon as he was born he was bereft
Of folks who took one look before they left.
When he got famous his mom shook off her sullen
And got in touch with her honey Countee Cullen.
R.I.P. WALT WHITMAN
May 31, 1819-26 March 1892
He wooed his Muse but couldn’t metre,
And so he thought he’d try to cheat her
By stifling her till she was smitten
By the prose of Walter Whitman.
R.I.P. THOMAS HARDY
June 2, 1840-January 11, 1928
He always wished to be a poet
And ever wished that he could show it
To the world, but the word was tardy
For the novelist Thomas Hardy
R.I.P. BEN JONSON
June 11, 1572-August 6, 1637
Although convicted of manslaughter,
He preferred to evoke man’s laughter
In poems using rime, not con-
sonance, O rare Ben Jonson!
R.I.P. JOHN DONNE
June 19, 1572-March 31, 1631
He took a playwright’s child as bride
And wrote defending suicide,
Used Anne, his wife’s name, as a pun
To indicate he was un-Donne,
But he lived longer than did she,
And lingers still in poesy.
R.I.P. JOHN CLARE
July 13, 1793-May 20, 1864
The poorest poet of his age
Or any other, he took his page
From a birch, and from despair
Stole the madness of John Clare.
R.I.P. STEPHEN VINCENT BENET
July 22, 1898-March 13, 1943
He wrote an epic of the Civil War
That still reverberates from shore to shore,
And John Brown’s Body’s unlikely to decay
As fast as that of its author, S. V. Benčt.
R.I.P. HILAIRE BELLOC
July 27, 1870-July 16, 1953
He hoped when he was dead it might be said,
“His sins were scarlet but his books were read.”
But one must sigh and cry, “Alas! Alack!
Hilaire has largely lost his Belloc clacque!”
R.I.P. DONALD JUSTICE
August 12, 1925-August 6, 2004
The lawyer of the Workshop
Enjoyed a rhythmic game.
His first theme was nostalgia —
His last theme was the same.
R.I.P. WALTER SCOTT
15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832
In verse he wrote the Minstrel’s Lay
Which made him famous, though not much hay,
But then he discovered how to plot
In prose and died Sir Walter Scott.
R.I.P. EDGAR GUEST
August 20, 1881-August 5, 1959
He wrote, “It takes a heap o’ livin’ to make a house a home,”
And found it took a lot less work to make a rhyming tome,
So rather than become a sort of versifying pest,
He thought he’d move right in and stay an Edgar-present Guest.
R.I.P. WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS
September 17, 1883-March 4, 1963
So much depends upon that wheel
barrow, red, glazed with rain,
beside white chickens, made of wood
no doubt – but what? We feel
someone should tell us but, alas!
only Doctor Williams could.
R.I.P. SAMUEL JOHNSON
September 18, 1709-December 23, 1784
Many an essay, poem, and play
Fell from his quill in his heyday,
But now we must look in a lexicon,
For the words of Doctor Sam Johnson.
R.I.P. T. S. ELIOT
September 26, 1888-January 4, 1965
“The Waste Land” and the “Four Quartets”
Were among his surest bets
For lasting fame, but Eliot’s
Standing lies nowadays with “Cats.”
R.I.P. WALLACE STEVENS
October 2, 1879-August 2, 1955
“God’s a blind that blocks the sun,
Wool pulled over everyone
Who thinks that he can roll elevens
And win death’s craps,” said Wallace Stevens.
R.I.P. E. E. CUMMINGS
October 14, 1890-September 3, 1962
He wrote no oratorios,
Operas, or vainglorios,
Only the slightly wacky hummings
Of an Edward Estlin Cummings.
R.I.P. JOHN KEATS
October 31, 1795-February 23, 1821
"Here lies one whose name was writ in water"
Is all he asked to be scribed upon his marker,
Yet his best friends — friends but not aesthetes —
Ascribed his death-wish to critics, not John Keats.
R.I.P. THOMAS CHATTERTON
November 20, 1752-August 24, 1770
Chatterton, the genius boy of Bristol,
Peered through his father’s occult ball of crystal,
Invented the ancient poet-priest called Rowley,
Then swallowed arsenic rather than starve slowly.
R.I.P. WILLIAM BLAKE
November 28, 1757-August 12, 1827
He saw a “Tyger, burning bright,
In the Forests of the Night,”
And lived his life for Heaven’s sake
Until the Night took William Blake.
R.I.P. SIR PHILIP SIDNEY
November 30, 1554 – October 17, 1586
It's bad enough to have to worry
About Phil Sidney and Howard Surrey,1
But I'll be damned, I will be bound,
If I'll lose sleep over Tom2 and Pound.3
1Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, 1517-19 January 1547; 2 T. S. Eliot, September 26, 1888-January 4, 1965; 3 Ezra Pound, October 30, 1885-November 1, 1972.
R.I.P. EMILY DICKINSON
December 10, 1830-May 15, 1886
The Maid of Amherst, Emily
Dickinson, sang quietly
Far from the roar of the madding throng,
But now she holds her breath too long.
R.I.P. EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON
December 22, 1869 – April 6, 1935
He lived in Gardiner, Maine, called it his own,
Though he renamed the place “Tilbury Town”
And hated it. It was the skeleton
Which he fleshed with the Corpus Robinson.
R.I.P. MATTHEW ARNOLD
December 24, 1822-April 15, 1888
He was arthritic as a critic,
Only slightly worser as a verser,
Something of a Trojan as a theologian —
Earth broke the mold of Matthew Arnold.
Wesli Court is an anagram pen name of Lewis Turco whose latest books are THE COLLECTED LYRICS OF LEWIS TURCO/WESLI COURT 1953-2004; FEARFUL PLEASURES: THE COMPLETE POEMS OF LEWIS TURCO 1959-2007; THE MUSEUM OF ORDINARY PEOPLE AND OTHER STORIES, (2008) and SATAN'S SCOURGE: A NARRATIVE OF THE AGE OF WITCHCRAFT IN ENGLAND AND NEW ENGLAND 1580-1697, (2009).
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