An epitaph poem is written in the memory of some dead person to recall his/her heroic act. It is an obituary written on the tombstone. Poets, too, have written epitaphs for their favorite characters or persons they met during their lifetime. Some poets even wrote their own epitaphs, while others wrote them for near and dear ones. Some of the best epitaph poems are as follows.
This short epitaph poem by Emily Dickinson is known as the best epitaph poem. It first appeared in 1896 and since then has become the best epitaph poem due to being very short, very direct, and metaphorical. The poem comprises just two stanzas with each having four lines. The metaphor for the narrow spot is the grave of the poet. The poet has beautifully presented the scene of her grave, the advice to the praying person, and the situation of the person inside that grave. Whereas she states that the person visiting the grave should step lightly so as not to disturb the dead lying in the grave, in the second stanza, she asks him to take a big step due to the achievement of the dead. Some memorable verses of this poem are as follows.
- These emerald seams enclosed
- Step lofty; for this name is told / As far as cannon dwell.
- Or flag subsist, or fame export / Her deathless syllable.
Epitaph On A Child
This beautiful six-lined poem by Thomas Gray wins the second position among the best epitaph poems. It is because it has packed in just six lines what other poems could not state or describe in several stanzas. The pome is written in heroic couplet shape with AABBCC rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter that has enhanced its beauty and musicality. The theme of the poem seems to present a child suffering from some ailment who has been saved by death to go to his grave and sleep in peace. The poet has compared the child with a gentle lamb, a religious metaphor. Some memorable lines of the poem are as follows.
- A gentler lamb never sported on the plan / A fairer flower will never bloom again.
- Few were the days allotted to his breath / Now let him sleep in peace his night of death.
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray?
Comprising three stanzas and given at the end of the poem as an Epitaph, this poem shows the qualities of the best poetry written for tombstones with such intentions. Although it is counted as the best epitaph poetic composition, it has achieved a great place in poetry. These three quatrains are abab rhymed with the thematic strand of some unknown poet lying dead in his grave. The use of literary devices such as metaphor and personification of the earth have made these three stanzas beautiful and matchless. Some of the memorable lines from these stanzas are as follows.
- Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth.
- And Melancholy marked him for her own.
- He gave to Misery (all he had) a tear.
- He gained from Heaven (‘t was all he wished) a friend.
Written by William Burns, this beautiful poem starts with the praise of a colonial administrator, William Muir, who happened to work as a governor and administrator in colonial India. With the lofty words used for the administrator after his death, the poem is ranked fourth. The poem shows the use of heroic couplet, abab rhyme scheme, and iambic pentameter used beautifully to highlight the life of a person. The repetition of words, metaphors, assonance, and consonance have made this poem a treat to read. Some of the best lines of this poem are as follows.
- An honest man here lies at rest.
- The fried of age, the guide of youth.
- Few heads with knowledge so informed.
- If there is none, he made the best of this.
Although it is not as poignant and lugubrious, this epitaph written by the founding father of the United States, Benjamin Franklin is an interesting read and is included among the best epitaph poems. In free verse, this epitaph poem shows the death of a book, its current condition, its everlasting impact, and above all its revision. The last words show how an author is important in not letting the books fade in the ravages of time. The use of the metaphor “food for words”, “the work shall not lost” and the use of denotations and connotations show Franklin’s lamentation over the treatment meted out to the books. Some memorable lines from the poem are as follows.
- Its contents torn out.
- Lies here, food for works.
- Revised and corrected / by the Author.
Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson
This short poem by Stevenson comprises just two stanzas with each having four lines. Although this is not an actual epitaph that should express regret, it is a self-created pre-death epitaph rather. It is because it is a requiem and that too written by the poet himself. Its unique poetic language has made this poem one of the best epitaphs. The expression of worldly luxuries and the poet’s willingness to die with the dictation of the verses that should be inscribed on his gravestone show the reasons behind its popularity. Some of the popular lines from the poem are as follows.
- Dig the grave and let me lie.
- And I laid me down with a will.
- And the hunter home from the hill.
An Epitaph on a Robin-Redbreast by Samuel Rogers
This twelve-lined poem by Samuel Rogers, an English poet, shows the regret, sorrow, and mourning of the poet over the death of robin redbreast. As the poet has clearly stated in the title of the poem that it is an epitaph, therefore it should be taken as that genre. The advice to the companion that he should tread lightly as the little bird has died, the use of the unique phrases, and above all the metaphors related to the flora and fauna have made this poem to be ranked seventh among the best epitaph poems. Some of the popular verses contributing to its popularity are as follows.
- Tread lightly here, for here, ’tis said, / When piping winds are hush’d around.
- A small note wakes from underground, / Where now his tiny bones are laid.
- No more in lone and leafless groves, / With ruffled wing and faded breast.
Epitaph on an Infant by Richard Coe
Written by Richard Coe, this epitaph poem questions the death of an infant which has been considered a point of philosophical polemics regarding theological condemnation or redemption as the child has little time to spend in this world. Therefore, this poem has been ranked among the best epitaph poems. The poem is not only short but also very concise with words carefully placed in their places. The poem sums up everything, in the end, line saying that the spirit of the child now lives with God. Some of the popular verses of this poem are as follows.
- A little babe reposeth here.
- Its spirit dwells with God.
- Of such the kingdom is of heaven.
The Universal Epitaph by John Clare
This short epitaph poem by John Clare, an English poet, is unique and interesting in that it not only talks about the poet’s wish to have an epitaph on his grave but also that it should have clarity about his past achievements as well as sins. The poet is not living in a fool’s paradise his life. With just eight lines, this short poem is listed here for these qualities. The rest of the work has been done by metaphors, connotations, and denotations to paint the real picture of the personality of the poet. That is why it has some universal phrases and sentences. Some best verses of this poem are as follows.
- No flattering praises doubt my stone.
- My faults and failings are all known.
- That I’m viler man than you.
The Knight’s Epitaph by William Cullen Bryant
This rhymeless and free verse poem shows Bryant’s poetic craft of epitaph writing. Therefore, the poem is also known as one of the best epitaph poetic pieces. However, this epitaph is somewhat different as it shows the speaker seeing himself on the lid of the vault. The architectural jargon has rather given a touch of faith to this epitaph, making it show the grandeur of language. The last rhetorical question lends credibility to the poetic output and its shape as an epitaph poem. Some of the best verses from this poem are as follows.
- There lies the lid of a sepulchral vault.
- The image of an armed knight is graven / Upon it.
- This effigy, the strange disused form / Of this inscription, eloquently show / His History.