The Lost Words of the Last Words

Over the last few months, I have been visiting cemeteries for genealogy research. I have found that the on-line resources are good, but unless you have a photograph of an actual headstone, things still could be left up to interpretation. My searches have led me thru various cemeteries in Maine and Massachusetts, from small family plots to large city owned cemeteries.

Some cemeteries are actually quite beautiful and others seem distressingly lonely. For the most part, I find cemeteries quite sad. But as I have searched for past ancestors, I made note of the quotes of scripture, hymns and poetry sometimes carved into the headstones. The headstones that are 100+ years old seem to be much more verbose than those of the modern era. I also noticed that it seemed the headstones of the more affluent families had lengthy quotes. There is little doubt this had to do with the cost.

I made it a mission of mine to see if I could find the particular carved words via the internet, since rarely is credit given on the stone. Most of the time, I could not find attribution to any one person for the quote I was searching for. Surprisingly, I found many headstones thoughout the United States adorned the same obscure quote. This led me to speculate there was a master book of acceptable quotes (which I later found to be true in my deep internet searches).

I decided that the quotes that I discovered in the cemeteries and painstakingly searched for their origins would be included in a small media project. First, I photographed some of the most beautiful statues, both of stone carvings and metal work. Then I included both the short headstone quote and the full body of the original work and superimposed them on each photo. These are the lost words of the last words.

I have enjoyed this small project immensely. The long, quiet walks gave me time to reflect on the souls buried and the peacefulness of my surroundings. It also gave me time for me to make decisions of what I would like when I depart this world. Though the subject can be seen by some as morbid, this project has made it easier for me on my continuum of life.

Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be you like a roe or a young hart on the mountains of Bether. Song of Solomon 2:17
One who never turned his back but marched breast forward, never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph, Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, sleep to wake. -- Robert Browning
When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, See! this our fathers did for us. -- John Ruskin
No, at noonday in the bustle of man's work-time Greet the unseen with a cheer! Bid him forward, breast and back as either should be, "Strive and thrive!" cry "Speed,—fight on, fare ever There as here!" -- Robert Browning
But the Lord says, "Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already - you can see it now! I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there. Even the wild animals will honor me; jackals and ostriches will praise me when I make rivers flow in the desert to give water to my chosen people. They are the people I made for myself, and they will sing my praises!" Isaiah 43:18-21
Sunrise! his feet have touched the hills of God; Heaven’s morning air blows sweet upon his brow; He sees the King in all his beauty now, And walks his courts with full salvation shod. “Looking to’ard Sunset.” even here he caught Prophetic hints of those afar, shining lands That lie beyond, like one who understands The sign, ere yet the miracle is wrought. And so he went: ah, we who stay below Watching the radiance of his upward flight Who, who of us shall reach such lofty height. Or Leave behind so fair an after-glow? - Caroline A. Mason
"Deal with me for the future as thou wilt; I am of the same mind as thou art; I am thine: I refuse nothing that pleases thee: lead me where thou wilt: clothe me in any dress thou choosest: is it thy will that I should hold the office of a magistrate, that I should be in the condition of a private man, stay there or be an exile, be poor, be rich? I will make thy defense to men in behalf of all these conditions. I will show the nature of each thing what it is." Epictetus Bk II Ch XVI
Generous as brave, Affection, kindness and the sweet offices Of love and duty, were to him as needful As his daily bread. - Samuel Rogers
Break, break, break, On thy cold gray stones, O Sea! And I would that my tongue could utter The thoughts that arise in me. O, well for the fisherman's boy, That he shouts with his sister at play! O, well for the sailor lad, That he sings in his boat on the bay! And the stately ships go on To their haven under the hill; But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand, And the sound of a voice that is still! Break, break, break At the foot of thy crags, O Sea! But the tender grace of a day that is dead Will never come back to me. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
So shall it be at last, in that bright morning, When the soul waketh and life’s shadows flee; O in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning, Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with Thee. - Harriet Beecher Stowe
Need I say more?


All photos taken by Janice Lind

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