When death turns into art: epitaphs of famous people with deep meanings in English

In the Middle Ages they loved black humor. That is why the art of epitaphs has become so popular. They wrote philosophical or funny sayings on their gravestone during their lifetime and often used the services of professional epitaphists.

The tradition of writing epitaphs has passed in our time. But if in our country they are written quite rarely, then in English-speaking countries to write something teary or funny on the grave is the norm.

Today we will tell you about the epitaphs on the graves of famous people who can really be called art.

Why write epitaphs at all?

From a psychological point of view, epitaph is an attempt by relatives to slightly reduce their pain from the loss of a loved one. And if the deceased himself composed it (when he was still alive, of course), then this is a kind of attempt to leave something after himself – funny, philosophical or strange.

In post-Soviet countries, epitaphs did not take root. Even if they are written, it is mainly prayers or passages from the Bible. This tradition is more European and American.

Many famous people who left their mark on history were also not averse to composing an epitaph for themselves. Others were composed by relatives. One way or another, we will not stretch the introduction for a long time, let’s get down to business.

William Shakespeare

The legendary poet and playwright rests in the UK, in the city of Stratford-upon-Avon. The place of his burial is a real tourist Mecca. But today we will not consider the epitaph at the grandiose memorial monument, but the quatrain, written by Shakespeare himself, which is located on his grave.

There is a legend that Shakespeare was so afraid of desecrating his own grave that he himself came up with an epitaph in which he cursed anyone who dared to touch his ashes.

Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Blese be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he yt moves my bones.

Here is a literary translation (translator A. Velichansky):

Friend, for God’s sake, do not swarm
The remains taken by this land;
The untouched is blessed for centuries
And damned – touched my ashes.

The quatrain is interesting to both linguists and historians. At the same time, many philologists consider this epitaph rather mediocre from the point of view of poetics. There is even a hypothesis that the epitaph was not written by Shakespeare, but by someone else. But still, the researchers kind of found the confirmationthat its author is Shakespeare himself.

And some even more adventurous researchers even believe that some secret is hidden there message or code. This, of course, is unlikely, but research is still underway.

Let’s take a little look at the epitaph in terms of linguistics.

Notice that the letter V completely replaces the letter U? The thing is that the letter U at that time did not yet officially exist. Depending on the location in the word, the letter V also denoted the sounds that are now assigned to the letters U and W.

And although some writers of the 16th-17th centuries already used the letter U, Shakespeare wrote the epitaph in the old fashioned way.

And you definitely noticed the abbreviations the – ye, that – yt, in which one letter is written over another. This type of article was quite common in the 16th century – printers often used just such forms. And once you’ve already touched, then look at the spelling of letters in the words the, heare, thes – such a thing was also extremely common.

“Blese be the man” – here the phrase should be taken as “May the man be blest”
“Cvrst be he” – likewise, “may he be cursed”.

In general, there is even a linguistic analysis of Shakespeare’s epitaph full-blown researchin which even parallels with ancient inscriptions are traced, including Ovid. But we will not go so far. Let’s go further.

Chalk Blank

You may not know the name of this person, you may not know what he looked like, but you must have heard his voice. Because it was they who were told by many of the animated characters of Warner Bros.

“A man of a thousand votes,” is what his colleagues called him. His voice speaks Bugs Bunny, Porky Piglet, Chicken Tweety, Willy Coyote and a huge number of characters.

The epitaph on his grave is a cult phrase that ended with every cartoon from the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes series. “That’s all folks” – “That’s all, friends.”

Mel Blanc clearly indicated in his will that this phrase served as an epitaph. And to be honest, it sounds both excellent self-irony and an awareness of one’s own merits. That’s cool.

Jack Lemmon

An American actor who was nominated for an Oscar eight times and won the statuette twice.

Lemmon was considered one of the best actors in the United States in the 70s and 80s. He played in more than a hundred films, but Russian-speaking film enthusiasts know him most likely from his role in the film “Only Girls in Jazz” (Some Like It Hot, 1959).


Lemmon has a very solid list of awards. In addition to two Oscars, he also has 2 Cannes palm branches, 3 BAFTA awards, 3 Golden Globes and a whole bunch of smaller awards.

The epitaph on Lemmon’s tombstone is very brief – Chekhov would be glad. It has only three words, two of which are the name of the actor.

The joke is that the tombstone looks exactly like a frame from the credits of a movie. As if the next moment the name of the picture appears. And you need to understand the inscription exactly as “Jack Lemmon in the film …”

At the same time, the inscription can be understood literally: “John Lemmon in [земле]”. Great epitaph for a film artist.

Robert Lewis Stevenson

Among poets and writers of past years, it was very prestigious to write an epitaph to oneself.

Robert Stevenson, author of the legendary Treasure Island and several dozen books on the marine theme, also wrote a requiem for himself.

In 1884, he became seriously ill. The writer was already preparing for death and created a small poem, bequeathed to write it on his tombstone. True, it “came in handy” to him already 10 years later, in 1894.

Stevenson is buried in the Samoa. His will was fulfilled and his Requiem flaunts on his grave

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 longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

“Requiem” has a rather interesting rhyme aaab cccb, where the three lines of the quatrain have a common rhyme, and all the fourth lines of the stanzas rhyme with each other.

“Requiem” is considered a rather complicated work for translation. Partly due to rhyme, partly due to rhythm. There are many options for translating into Russian, but the only one recognized does not exist. Here is one of the most successful, in our opinion (the translator is Mikhail Lukashevich):

Under the expanse of heaven where the star is high
Let the tombstone take me
I lived joyfully, and death is easy for me,
This is my last command.

Knock out a verse on my grave:
Here he lies of his own accord,
A sailor from the seas returned home
The hunter came down from the hills.

It is interesting that in fact the verse consists of three stanzas, and only two on the tombstone. It turned out that the literary clerk of the writer threw out the second stanza from the work. It is still not known whether this was done at the request of the writer or whether it was arbitrariness on the part of the clerk. And many researchers believe that still the second.

Here is the second missing stanza:

Here may the winds about me blow;
Here the clouds may come and go;
Here shall be rest for evermore,
And the heart for aye shall be still.

Charles Bukowski

Bukowski had a great influence on contemporary American literature. He wrote six novels, over two hundred stories and about a thousand poems.

As a representative of “dirty realism” in his works he highlighted the vicious and cruel realities of American society. Bukowski’s stories have been repeatedly filmed.

Bukowski is a representative of a rather tough underground in literature, so his works did not receive prizes, but he occupies a rather solid place in American culture.

Bukowski’s epitaph is as simple as possible: Don’t try. But in reality its meaning is not as pessimistic as it might seem at first glance.

The phrase “Don’t try” has become a kind of life credo of the writer. In letters to friends and writings of the writer, the same idea was often repeated:

“We work too hard. We try too hard. Don’t try. Don’t work. It’s there. It’s been looking right at us, aching to kick out of the closed womb. There’s been too much direction. It’s all free, we needn’t be told. Classes? Classes are for asses. Writing a poem is as easy as beating your meat or drinking a bottle of beer. ”

“We work too hard. We are trying too hard. Do not try. Do not work. All here. It looks directly at us and passionately seeks to break out of the closed womb. We have too many guides. All this is free, we do not need to be taught this. Study? She’s for asses. Writing a poem is as simple as jerking off or having a bottle of beer. ”

The whole philosophy of the writer’s life was reduced to one simple sentence. “Do not try, but just be yourself and do what you like.” But for the uninitiated in Bukovsky’s views, the epitaph sounds like “Do not try,” but for those who know what the writer had in mind, it is completely transformed: “Do not try what your soul does not lie to.”

Bonus: gravestone to oneself

The second meaning of the word “epitaph” is grave speech. Last year, a video appeared on Reddit in which a humorous recording of the deceased’s voice was heard at the funeral. She laughed those present and diluted the mournful mood of relatives.

Hello? Hello? Let me out! Where the fuck am I? Let me out! It’s fucking dark in here! Is that a priest I can hear? This is Shay, I’m in the box. And I’m dead … Hello again hello, I just called to say goodbye. “

Hey! Hey! Let me out! Damn it, where am I? Let me out! It’s fucking dark here! Is that a priest talking there? This is Shay, I’m in a drawer. And I’m dead. Hello, hello again. I called just to say goodbye. “

The last phrase the man sang in a manner Neil Diamond’s Hello. Only the last “hello” was replaced by “goodbye”.

P.S. Have you noticed a classic Irish accent in the video? Fucking [ˈfʌk.ɪŋ] turns into [ˈfɔːk.ɪŋ] with a clear “o” sound.

It’s just amazing how a few phrases can change people’s moods. Then they mourned, and after a second they giggle. And in order to feel the real power of the English language not in translation, but in the original, learn it correctly.

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