Monday, December 13, 2010

Epitaph

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I am not one for habitually stalking around graveyards, but like many people I am sometimes fascinated by what is written on headstones; it is the deceased's final message to the world, there for generations to see after their passing.  What does that message say about the individual, what was their parting shot?

The first picture is of one of the most famous graves in Ireland, that of W.B. Yeats, in the churchyard at Drumcliffe in Co. Sligo.  The lines come from the sixth stanza of Yeats' poem "Under Ben Bulben" (named after the mountain that you would see in the distance were in not for the Sligo weather).  It reads:

Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

Coming to the end of his life, Yeats wants there to be no fuss about his death, he wants to be remembered only for his legacy of writings and does not want to get in the way of those poets and artists who would come after him.  Ironically, his grave has become a famous tourist attraction!

He who winneth souls...


The second picture is a headstone of a much less well-known man than W.B. Yeats.  It belongs to John Basil Clarkson.  Basil used to run summer camps for children, firstly in North Wales and then latterly in Co. Sligo.  My wife had the pleasure of getting to know Basil and his wife Nora at these summer camps when she was a teenager.  I came to the camps myself to help out years later (and unfortunately after both Basil and Nora had died.)  No one knows how many men and women today are living their lives for Christ as a result of attending these summer camps in their school years, it must be hundreds, if not thousands.  I cannot think of a more fitting epitaph for Basil than:

"... He who winneth souls is wise."

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