Compiled by Roy E. Peterson

Readers are encouraged to add other great poets’ and writers’ epitaphs in the comments section below, or write a poem for their own epitaphs.



Both authors well and lesser known
Write their own epitaphs for stone.
What fascinations fill my mind
To think what they left us to find.



Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Stevenson was a Scottish novelist, poet and travel writer who suffered all his life from a condition that some thought was tuberculosis, but likely was a disease more recently identified as bronchiectasis, or sarcoidosis. His condition was a constant affliction that is reflected in his “Requiem,” in the words, “and gladly die.” Sickly as a child, hindered as an adult, he expired at the age of 44. Even in his condition, he managed to travel from Edinburgh to California and on to Samoa by ship. He honeymooned in the Napa Valley of California and wrote glowingly about Samoa.

Stevenson was most noted for Treasure Island, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Kidnapped, The Master of Ballantrae, The Black Arrow, and a Child’s Garden of Verses.


Stevenson’s Requiem

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
__—And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ’grave for me.
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
__—And the hunter home from the hill.



William Shakespeare (Bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616)

Good friend for Jesus sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.



Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)

Conrad, who served in the British navy before he became a novelist took his epitaph from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene:

Sleep after toile, port after stormie seas,
Ease after warre, death after life, does greatly please.



John Donne (1572-1631)

Reader, I am to let thee know,
Donne’s body only lies below;
For could the grave his soul comprise,
Earth would be richer than the skies.



Alexander Pope  (21 May 1688 – 30 May 1744)

Heroes and Kings your distance keep;
In peace let one poor poet sleep,
Who never flattered folks like you;
Let Horace blush and Virgil too.



Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

When I am dead, I hope it may be said:
“His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”



Clive Blake, Cornish Poet

Epitaph for Charlotte Dymond

This flower cut,
Whilst in full bloom,
Now rests in peace,
Within this tomb.



Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886)

Step lightly on this narrow spot!
The broadest land that grows
Is not so ample as the breast
These emerald seams enclose.

Step lofty; for this name is told
As far as cannon dwell,
Or flag subsist, or fame export
Her deathless syllable.



Final Thought

Did we succeed or simply fail?
An epitaph presents a tale.
Forgotten poet? Or published giant?
Just write your own. Don’t be defiant.



Postscript: The Compiler’s Epitaph Possibilities


Epitaph 1

I have fought a good fight;
I have finished my race.
I have kept to my faith
By His power and grace (2 Timothy 4:7)


Epitaph 2

Here lies Roy between two stones.
His soul is gone; he left these bones.


Epitaph 3

Here lies Roy becoming dust.
His soul in heaven in God’s trust.


Epitaph 4

Returned to sender.



Roy E. Peterson is a writer and former U.S. military army intelligence officer who currently resides in Texas. 

NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments.


46 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    A delightful and sensitive submission. My favorites are Dickinson, and Belloc. Everyone should have one ready, just in case.

  2. Sally Cook

    And Stevenson, of course, who has been a favorite of mine since I was four.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

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

    –William Butler Yeats

  4. Jared Carter


    Six feet down, beneath this stone,
    Rest six feet of powdered bone.
    On Judgment Day, add Holy Water,
    Stir well, and then you’ll have J. Carter.

  5. Beverly S Stock

    In my own research of epitaphs I smiled at the following:

    A Man Cremated Four Wives

    Stranger arouse and shed a tear,
    For Mary Jane lies buried here.
    Mingled in a most surprising manner
    With Susan, Marie and portions of Hannah.

    (This man had cremated four wives, and the ashes, kept in four urns, being overturned and fallen together, were buried and had this droll inscription.)

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      This is the grave of Elizabeth Lee —
      She lived to the age of 103.
      For fifteen years she kept her virginity
      (A pretty good record for this vicinity).

      –old New England epitaph

  6. Joe Tessitore

    Great fun these, with quite a few faves, not the least of which is Mr.Peterson’s “Returned to sender”.

  7. Joe Tessitore

    I’m going home to stay.
    Meet me there.

    From Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

  8. Joe Tessitore

    From the Poet’s’ Corner:

    Beneath this stone
    Lies not Joe S.,
    Of dulcet tone,
    But I digress.
    Can there be worse
    Straight from the hearse
    Lies old Joe T.

  9. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Thank you so very much for these, Roy – I love them. I only hope my sad tombstone tale doesn’t lower the tone.

    On the headstone of an anonymous Kentish victim
    of life’s cruel breeze – they were fart oo polite
    for their own good.

    Wherever you may be
    Let your wind blow free.
    I didn’t –
    Look what happened to me! 😉

    • Roy E. Peterson

      Oh, my goodness! Must have lived and died in West Texas!

  10. Mike Bryant

    Here lies Mike

    You’re reading my greeting,
    The sun is still shining.
    You stand for our meeting,
    While I am reclining.

    My favorite is still George Carlin’s punch line on his headstone:

    He was here a minute ago…

    • Roy E. Peterson

      Both those are cute and funny, plus they make one scratch their head!

  11. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    On the headstone of a nonagenarian Cornish aunt who happened to be a lifelong hypochondriac. I fear her words were aimed at her long-suffering daughter. Sadly her daughter passed five months before her eternally ailing mother.

    You heartless lunatic
    I told you I was sick!

  12. Mike Bryant

    An epitaph from Boot Hill… I think Johnny Cash immortalized this one

    Here lies the body of Lester Moore,
    Two slugs from a forty-four,
    No Les, no more.

    • Roy E. Peterson

      That is the one I remember from visiting Boot Hill in Tombstone on more than one occasion!

  13. Yael

    Delightful epitaphs all of them, thank you.
    I hope I’ll never need one of those, as I’m planning on living forever. So far this has been working out really well for me.

  14. Joseph S. Salemi

    Here lies the body of Annabel Shore —
    She worked for years as a ten-buck whore.
    We doubt if she minds her current condition;
    Horizontal was her favored position.

    –old New England epitaph

    • Roy E. Peterson

      Oh, my goodness!
      Annabel’s lewdness,
      Put her to rest
      The way they thought best!

  15. Jared Carter

    John Donne’s birth and death dates are given above as 1872-1861. Did he live backward or am I missing something? Even backward, he seems to have been awfully precocious for someone who only lived eight years.

    • Roy E. Peterson

      They are way off for some unknown reason, but they must have come from me. John Donne was born in 1572 and died in 1631.

  16. Joe Tessitore

    She was a casualty of
    The pandemic’s spread.
    Here lies the remains
    Of one virtually dead …
    Or do they?

  17. C.B. Anderson

    A great idea, this project. Here’s mine:

    Right here, beneath this stone, lies Kip
    Who, having failed to check the clock,
    Knew not his metaphoric ship
    Had sailed and left him at the dock.

    • Roy E. Peterson

      Funny! I love your wording of “his metaphoric ship had sailed and left him at the dock.”

  18. Joseph S. Salemi

    Here lies poor old Norman Mailer —
    Novelist and loudmouth railer,
    Politician, pugilist,
    Aficionado of the tryst.


    • Roy E. Peterson

      From the little I know of Norman, this is very fitting and funny!

  19. Will B. Dunn

    These were recently discovered at the going-out-of-business sale for a quaint, pandemic-ruined small business called Classical Stones Befitting Bones (that tried in vain to reinvent itself as You Park’em, We Mark’em). These were rough, preliminary sketches in a “pending ascending” file that strangely all seemed to be SCP related…

    By wisdom gleaned
    from things observed,
    as soldier-poet
    well he served.

    Still music now
    as he was then
    by fingered strings,
    and keys…and pen.

    The Gospel preached
    by being here
    as man of cloth
    and sonneteer.

    Here lie not two
    but many eyes
    that saw the world
    through B. D. Wise.

    He’s here and yet
    more where he proved,
    in hearts he touched,
    that souls were moved.

    In works well written
    and retold,
    her words became
    transmuted gold.

    As poet’s spouse
    and poet too,
    a plumber blessed
    with pipe dreams true.

    In homespun verse
    he veiled the truth
    of hard row hoed
    to age from youth.

    In temper lost
    the words were found
    to write his way
    to higher ground.

    A Brit by birth,
    a Yank by choice,
    a poet frank
    of charming voice.

    For liberty
    a vanguard force,
    for formalists
    a better choice.

    • Roy E. Peterson

      Excellent set of Epitaphs and perfect for poets to ponder!

      • Will

        A few more have now been discovered:

        By day a systems
        by night encoded
        art to hear.

        Sound both as theory
        and as heard
        his soul composed
        by note and word.

        First eye and hand
        to art restored,
        then mind and pen
        to heart implored.

        To life down under
        near the wild
        his poet’s soul was

        A stubborn stone
        in passing stream
        blind both to evil
        and to dream.

  20. David Watt

    This posting and comments thread is a load of fun.
    Here goes my ten cents worth.

    You may wonder who lies here.
    I’ll give it to you straight.
    He was a friend to man and beast-
    But most of all, a mate.

  21. Joseph S. Salemi

    Here rests the dust of Whitman (Walt).
    Today he’d scream “It’s not my fault!”
    Free-verse god, he’d damn the shit
    That workshop weirdos now emit.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.