Miscellaneous Literary Scraps
taped to the inside front cover
of Michelle's genealogy notebook
("Why I Do This Weird Thing Called Genealogy")
by Edgar A. Guest
Somebody labored years ago
Whose name I do not even know
Ploughed ground or sailed the open sea,
And loved a maid that I might be.
Two centuries ago or more
A woman at an English door
Looked fondly at a lilac tree
And passed that bit of pride to me.
One stood enraptured when he heard
The music of a singing bird,
And now with each returning spring,
I find I do the self-same thing.
Could we untangle all our lives
And learn how much in us survives,
We might discover just how far
Goes back what makes us what we are.
"His golden locks time hath to silver turn'd
His youth 'gainst time and age hath ever spurn'd
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green."
--George Peele, 1556-1596
Think of me as you pass by.
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now so you must be.
Prepare for death and follow me.
Genealogy: Where you confuse the dead and irritate the living
"This quiet Dust was Gentlemen
And Lads and Girls;
Was laughter and ability and
And frocks and curls."
It's nice to come from gentle folk
Who wouldn't stoop to brawl
Who never took a lusty poke
At anyone at all.
Who never raised a raucous shout
At any country inn
Or crowned an ugly fellow-lout
With a belaying pin.
Who never shot a revenooer
Hunting for a still
Who never rustled cattle, who are
Pleased with Father's will.
Who lived their lives out as they ought,
With no uncouth distractions,
And shunned like leprosy the thought
Of taking legal actions.
It's nice to come from gentle folk
Who've never known disgrace--
But oh, though scandal is no joke,
It's easier to trace!
Go where the ancient pathway guides,
See where our sires laid down
The patriarchs of the town;
Hast thou a tear for buried love?
A sigh for transient power?
All that a century left above?
Go, read it in an hour.
Dirge Without Music
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.
The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay
"You cannot successfully navigate the future unless you keep always framed beside it
a small clear image of the past."
"The dark sky had already paled a little in its frame of cherry-pink chintz. Eternity framed in domesticity. Never mind. One had to frame it in something, to see it at all."
--From Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther
Man is in love, said Yeats, and loves what vanishes. Such is the painful beauty of historical awareness. Our efforts to connect with the vanished past do not necessarily make us happier in any simple sense. But they make us more fully human, and more fully at home in the world, in time as well as space. We fail to honor our full humanity when we neglect them....
History can and should be a vehicle for the exploration of self-consciousness. But it also should serve constantly to interrupt the monologues of our self-awareness....We have to resist the essentially narcissistic idea that history is valueless unless it reflects our own image back to us. One of the uses of the truly usable past lies in its intrasigence and otherness, its resistance to us, its unwillingness to oblige our narcissism. Instead history, like all the liberal arts, ought to do what Plato saw as the goal of all inquiry: usher us out of the mental caverns into which we are born, and into the light of a real public world.
--Wilfred M. McClay, A Student's Guide to U.S. History
All one can really leave one's children is what's inside their heads. Education, in other words, and not earthly possessions, is the ultimate legacy, the only thing that cannot be taken away.
--Wernher von Braun
"We honor our parents by what we become."
--From The Price of Everything by Russell Roberts
"A desire to know the history and character of a worthy ancestry comes of that filial piety which responds to the divine precept — 'Honor thy father and thy mother'."
Your tombstone stands among the rest;
neglected and alone
The name and date are chiseled out
on polished, marbled stone
It reaches out to all who care
It is too late to mourn
You did not know that I'd exist
You died and I was born.
Yet each of us are cells of you
in flesh, in blood, in bone.
Our blood contracts and beats a pulse
entirely not our own.
Dear Ancestor, the place you filled
one hundred years ago
Spreads out among the ones you left
who would have loved you so.
I wonder if you lived and loved,
I wonder if you knew
That someday I would find this spot,
and come to visit you.
President John Adams composed this inscription to be carved into the
sarcophagus lid of Henry Adams, the first Adams to arrive in Massachusetts,
This stone and several others have been placed in this yard by a
great, great, grandson from a veneration of the piety, humility,
simplicity, prudence, frugality, industry and perseverence of his
ancestors in hopes of recommending an affirmation of their virtues
to their posterity.
"Do not wait for leaders --
do it alone, person to person."
“Das schönste Wappen in der Welt
Das is der Pflug im Ackerfeld.”
(“The most beautiful coat of arms in the world
is the plow out in the field.”)
How do you want to be remembered after you're gone? Better start thinking about that. I read this somewhere:
"An aged aunt recently added a note in a letter about her deceased uncle by marriage:
'Excellent Tailor!!! Always Drunk!!! His Mission in Life was Making Babies!!!'"
Cemeteries would be even more interesting if they featured the truth in epitaphs like that one.
But I guess we should be glad they don't.