by James A. Tweedie On my most recent visit to England in 2017, I paused to record a number of prominent grave monuments that included poetic tributes to the deceased. Here are the four I found most interesting from the standpoint of poetry. No doubt those of you who live in the British Isles (or elsewhere in the English-speaking world) know of many others which you would have chosen over these. Feel free to share any of your favorites in the comments. The spellings recorded below may seem like typos, but were acceptable renderings of the English language at the time they were written. Three of the four are written in 14 lines, suggesting they were intended as sonnets. The remaining poem (Berkeley—who died two years before Shakespeare) has 12 lines. All are composed in iambic pentameter with rhyming couplets. Three are from the early 17th century and one from the late 18th century. They reflect a time when poetry was more fully integrated into the culture than it is today. As an aside, we know that Shakespeare’s plays were enjoyed by both the noble and the ignoble, but we cannot assume that common folks in Elizabethan England were literate enough to read and appreciate the words inscribed on these cathedral tombs. The Encyclopedia Britannica comments on this subject as follows: “A revolution in reading and writing was taking place, and by 1640 nearly 100 percent of the (English) gentry and merchant elements were literate. Wealth and literacy were directly related. Possibly 50 percent of the yeomanry but only 10 percent of the husbandry and none of the peasantry were able to read or write. Although literacy among townspeople was higher, the proportions relative to wealth still held true.” I might add that, among the non-gentrified classes (c. 1640), whatever literacy there was among men was perhaps four to ten times higher than it was for women. Where: Canterbury Cathedral Who: Tomb of Robert B. Berkeley, died 1614 He that’s imprisond in the narrow roome Wer’t not for custome, needs nor verse nor toombe Nor can from theice a memorie be lent To hm, who must be his toombs monument And by the verture of his lasting fame Must make his toombe live long not it his fame For when this gaudie monument is gone Children of th’unborne world shall spye ye stone That covers him, and to their ffellowes crye Tis here tis here about Barkley doth lye To build his toombe then is not thought soe safe Whose virtue must out live his epitaphe. Where: Canterbury Cathedral Who: Tomb of Thomas Thornhurst, killed in battle of Isle de Ré, July 17, 1627 Stay gentle reader pass not slightly by This tombe is sacred to the memory Of noble Thornhurst what he was & who There is not roome enough in me to show Nor his brave story out at length to explaine Both Germanyes, the new found world & Spaine Ostendes long seidge & Newfort battle tried His worth, at last, warring with France he dyed His blood sealed he last conquest for blacke Ree Gave him at once a death and victory His death as well as life victorious was Fearing least Ree (as might be brought to pass) By others might he lost in tyme to come He tooke possession till the day of doome. Where: Canterbury Cathedral Who: “Sacred to the Memory of William Prude Esq: Lieftennant Coronell in the Belgick Warres. Slayne at ye Siege of Maxtitch (ie. Mastritch) the 12 of July 1632.” Stand Soldiers; E’re you march (by way of chardge) Take an Example here, that may inlarge Your minds to noble Action. Here in Peace Rests One, whose life was Warre, whose rich increase Of Fame and Honour from his Valour grew; Unbeg’d, unbought: For what he wonne he drew By just deseart; having in servise beene A Souldier, till neere Sixty from Sixteene Years of his active life; continually Feareles of death, yet still prepard to dye In his religious thoughts: For midst all harmes He bore as much of Pietie as Armes: Now Soldiers On, and feare not to intrude The gates of death by example of this PRUDE Where: Exeter Cathedral Who: “Near this Place Are deposited the mortal Remains Of LAURA, Wife of GEARGE FERDINAND LORD SOUTHAMPTON, And Second Daughter of the Honble And Rt. Revnt Of this Diocese. She departed this Life at Dawlish in this County June 10th, 1798..on the 34th Year Of her Age.” Farewell, dear shade!—but let this marble tell What heavenly worth in youth and beauty fell. With every virtue blest, whate’er thy lot, To charm a court, or dignify a cot. In each relation shone thy varied life Of daughter, sister, mother, friend, and wife. Seen with delight in fortune’s golden ray, Suffering remained to grace thy parting day; When smiling languor spoke the candid soul, And patience checked the sigh affection stole; The gifts of Heaven in piety confest. Calmly resigned, and every plaint supprest. The consort’s faith, the parent’s tender care, Point the last look, and breathe the dying prayer.