Today is ‘Plan Your Own Epitaph’ day. Now, you’d be forgiven if you think this is morbid because it is. But it’s also worth thinking about. An epitaph is an inscription on a tombstone or monument to memorialize the person buried below. It is essentially your last words to the world. And who knows words better than famous authors? Take a look at the epigraphs of some of these famous authors to get inspired.
1. F Scott. Fitzgerald| “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
The epitaph on Fitzgerald’s grave is the famous last line of his magnum opus, The Great Gatsby. The line evokes the inevitable passage of time.
2. Sylvia Plath| “Even AMIDST FIERCE FLAMES THE GOLDEN LOTUS CAN BE PLANTED.”
Plath’s grave features a slightly altered quote from Ming Dynasty era poet Wu Cheng’en. The original quote is, “even in the midst of fierce flames, the golden lotus may be planted.” Plath’s husband, the English poet Ted Hughes, chose this for her. Interesting note, Hughes’ name had to be repainted onto Plath’s grave, as fans scratched it off, as Hughes was allegedly abusive towards Plath during their marriage.
3. OSCAR WILDE| “AND ALIEN TEARS WILL FILL FOR HIM PITY’S LONG BROKEN URN, FOR HIS MOURNERS WILL BE OUTCAST MEN, AND OUTCASTS ALWAYS MOURN.”
This line comes from Wilde’s Poem “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” Oscar Wilde is still loved and mourned by outcasts everywhere, as his grave is so littered with lipstick kisses from admirers that a glass barrier had to be put around it to avoid any further damage.
4. JOHN KEATS| “HERE LIES WHOSE NAME WAS WRIT IN WATER.”
Keats, a famous Romantic-era English poet, is buried in the Protestant Cemetery of Rome, Italy. The full inscription reads, “this grave contains all that was Mortal of a Young English Poet who On his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of His Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone: Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water. 24 February 1821.” These words reflect Keats’ fears that he would be forgotten after his death.
5. Dorothy Parker| “EXCUSE MY DUST.”
Dorothy Parker was cremated, so the epitaph was written on her memorial plaque. Parker donated the entirety of her estate to civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After King’s assassination, the fight over Parker’s estate led to her ashes being left in a filing cabinet for over twenty years.
6. Emily Dickinson| “Called back.”
“Called back” is a direct quote from one of Dickinson’s last letters to her cousins Frances and Louise, “Little cousins, called back, Emily.” Knowing that Emily Dickinson believed in life after death, “called back,” is a rather haunting epitaph.
7. Virginia Woolf| “Death is tHE ENEMY. AGAINST YOU I WILL FLING MYSELF, UNVANQUISHED AND UNYIELDING O DEATH.”
Virginia Woolf’s husband, Leonard, chose a quote from her acclaimed novel The Waves. The line is particularly poignant, knowing the nature of Woolf’s death (suicide). Perhaps Leonard was referencing that her work would live on even after her death.
8. Octavia butler| “ALL THAT YOU TOUCH, YOU CHANGE. ALL THAT YOU CHANGE, CHANGES YOU. THE ONLY LASTING TRUTH IS CHANGE. GOD IS CHANGE.”
The epitaph comes from Butler’s science fiction novel Parable of the Sower. It outlines the basis of the Earthseed religion, a major plot point of Parable of the Sower, and its sequel Parable of the Talents.
So, what do you want your tombstone to say?
featured image via the guardian