Cemeteries

Silent Tombs of Despair

Let yesteryear’s kisses lay hidden in the shadows of time,

For the ghosts who haunt time’s halls are silent and sad,

Though still they remember the fires and desires of love,

And they envy the fire in my heart and the flowers in your eyes;

Listen, o muse, to the song they would sing to your heart – 

Of death, who strangled their hopes, silenced their songs,

And buried their love in silent tombs of despair;

Their bones now rest ‘neath the Earth, though their shades remain, 

Chained to the places they haunted when their lips were warm;

Perhaps these spirits will awaken when you fling wide your soul,

Full of winter and storms, of springtime and sassafras tea – 

Perhaps even yesteryear’s sighs may meet with today’s

When we are the ghosts who sigh and long for one kiss,

And the poems and songs of tomorrow are sung o’er our graves.

 

Categories: Cemeteries, Exploration, Literature, Love, Nature, Poetry | Leave a comment

When You’re White with Age

When you’re white with Age, and I’m asleep in my Grave,
Buried and awaiting my final excavation,
Think back on your youth, and smile, and raise me a glass.
When Time has shortened your breath and flowed away,
And those twin suns you have for eyes are setting
Beyond the River of Night, and you long to sleep,
Remember – and our shadows will rise up like ghosts in your Mind,
Trooping onto Memory’s stage while salt tears flow.
Then the very words we spoke will be spoken again,
And the very hearts we broke will be broken again,
And the Visions you inspired in my Heart and in my Mind
With your lovely dark eyes will burst through our Souls
Like a Supernova, or your magical smile in the fall.
And we will be One, if only for that instant in Time
While you recite the words of the Poet to his Muse,
When you’re white with Age, and I’m asleep in my Grave.

 

Categories: Archaeology, Cemeteries, Literature, Love, Poetry | Leave a comment

Of the Wearing of Rings in Ancient Times

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Prehistoric Native American Rings

Rings are interesting things.  Although I have gone through certain phases of my life wearing rings or not wearing any rings at all, the reasons folks have had for wearing rings throughout prehistory and history is a fairly new interest.  I suppose it started when I noticed that a Canadian couple I met in England wear their wedding rings on the ring fingers of their right hands, instead of the more common American practice of wearing them on the ring fingers of the left hand.  An interesting discussion of such things can be found on this blog : https://humanpast.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/rings-and-things/

Shopping in an Atlanta charity shop recently, this lately dormant interest was reawakened by a serendipitous find.  What is evidently one of the classic works on rings is now happily in my possession, and is an amazing introduction to the history of rings up to that time.  Rings for the Finger: From the Earliest Known Times to the Present, with Full Descriptions of the Origin, Early Making, Materials, the Archaeology,  History, For Affection,  For Love, For Engagement, For Wedding, Commemorative, Mourning, Etc. (1917) by George Frederick Kunz is nothing if not an in depth treatise on the myriad mysteries of rings!

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Early Finger Rings

It seems that among the men of ancient Rome only senators were allowed to wear gold rings until later in the Empire when the cohesion holding together the social fabric began to melt and it became all the rage among all classes.  Also, prehistoric peoples of the  southwestern Native American tribes wore rings made of shell, some being incised with natural images like lightning and clouds.  Pre-columbian copper rings have also been unearthed in Indian mounds in Ohio, and a few stone rings, which I must presume were made of soapstone (steatite) have also been excavated in Kentucky, Tennessee, and other states.

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Kunz thought that the custom of wearing rings in the Occidental world derived ultimately from the Orient or from the  Egyptians, who reduced seals of rank worn about the neck or arm to rings for the finger.  From Egypt the practice spread to Greece and to the Etruscans, from whom the Romans adopted it.  There are even mythological tales of ring-wearing, such as the one in which Zeus freed Prometheus but commanded him to wear a ring made of one of the links of his Caucasian chain set with a tiny piece of the rock to which he had been chained.  In this manner his 30,000 year punishment could continue in a manner more healthy to his liver.  Yes, Prometheus had his own beast of burden, and it had nothing to do with alcohol!

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“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 1937

Categories: Archaeology, Art, Artifacts, Cemeteries, Love, Museums | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Highgate Cemetery, London

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Highgate Cemetery in London, England is a PHANTASTIC treasure of Victorian sculptural sepulchres. A recent visit confirmed my hopes and expectations, although I must say that the overly engineered tour was a bit heavy-handed and I wish it had been possible to just wander around freely. Since black and white photos of Highgate seem to do it the most justice, here is a visual tour of it as nineteenth century photographs might have depicted it.

George Wombwell Monument

George Wombwell Monument

The Angels of Highgate

The Angels of Highgate

Highgate Cemetery Path

Highgate Cemetery Path

The biggest regret was that the tour group was not taken to see the grave of Elizabeth Siddal, the Pre-Raphaelite muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which we were looking forward to with excitement. Rossetti is rumoured to have painted thousands of paintings of Siddal, whom he later married, including the sensual Beata Beatrix, and his sister Christina once described his obsession with this muse in verse. When she died in 1862, Rossetti buried his sole surviving copies of his poems with her, an act which he later regretted. Another regret that haunted him for the rest of his life was the fact that he had her exhumed so he could reclaim the poetry and publish it. It is said that her flowing red hair had somehow continued to grow after her death, and that the coffin was overflowing with it….

Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

“One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel — every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.”

Christina Rossetti, In An Artist’s Studio, 1856

Categories: Cemeteries, Exploration, Literature | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

St. Sepulchre’s Cemetery – A Hidden Victorian Gem in Oxford

St. Sepulchre's Cemetery - A Hidden Victorian Gem in Oxford

Two of us ramblers recently took a walk up Jericho way looking for a hidden cemetery called St. Sepulchre’s, a Victorian graveyard on the site of an old farm. Despite containing still more examples of vandalism and neglect amongst Oxford cemeteries, as well as a great many graves completely overgrown with grass and briers, it was a beautiful spring day and we were able to take some charming photographs of the scene and setting. Quite a few leading Oxonians, masters of colleges, and mayors are interred at St. Sepulchre’s, the most famous probably being Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol College and arguably the most famous translator of Plato’s dialogues and other classical works into English.

Grave of Benjamin Jowett

Grave of Benjamin Jowett

Additionally, a highly interesting group of stones mark the places where the Sisters of the Society of the Holy and Undivided Trinity (commonly called Sisters of Mercy) were laid to rest. These Anglican nuns had deep-rooted connections to the Reverend Dr. E. B. Pusey and the Oxford Movement, and were led by Mother Superior Marian Rebecca Hughes – the first woman to take vows as an Anglican nun since Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries during the English Reformation. Interestingly, Mother Marian was also the sister of Thomas Hughes, the author of the classic Victorian school boy novel Tom Brown’s School Days.

Grave of Eight Year Old John Henry Silliman

Grave of Eight Year Old John Henry Silliman

Ah – the gems of largely forgotten places and memorials to our predecessors that exist in “this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England!”

St. Sepulchre's Cemetery

“…either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by the sight of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain….Now if death is like this, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night. But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead are, what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than this?…What would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? Nay, if this be true, let me die again and again.”

Plato, Apology, Socrates’ Last Words, ca. 399 B.C.

Translated by Benjamin Jowett, 1871

Categories: Cemeteries, Exploration, Literature | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford, UK

Wolvercote Cemetery, March 2013 114

Exploring cemeteries has long been a favorite pasttime.  Recently I chose a blustery wintry day in early Spring to walk to Wolvercote Cemetery, north of Oxford, to visit the grave of one of the greatest imaginative storytellers of the 20th century – J. R. R. Tolkien.  I savour these moments so much, however, that I only went to his grave after exploring the rest of the cemetery for over an hour, building up the suspense!  Seeing the graves of children along the way, decorated with their toys and cards from their parents, is always so touching.  I cannot fathom the sadness those families must have felt and will always feel.  Oxford scholars, priests, rabbis, mothers, and fathers – all are represented at Wolvercote.  Even a minister from Kentucky with a Cherokee motto on his tombstone!  The grave of Tolkien and his wife was worth the wait – especially because of the copies of his books and notes and tokens left by his readers.  Such an ordinary British grave in an ordinary British cemetery.  That speaks volumes.

Another thing has struck me about Oxford’s cemeteries, and it is not at all positive.  There are far too many vandalized graves here for such an affluent community.  Rose Hill Cemetery, just east of Oxford, is no different.  What possesses the living to destroy the houses of the dead?  I have long been a believer that the callousness of those who would destroy graves for no reason is not far removed from the hatred and reckless destruction that causes others to take the lives of of living human beings for no reason.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

“It’s a dangerous business…going out your door….You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954

Categories: Cemeteries, Exploration, Literature | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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