Why read it? Epitaphs in poetic form. Concise. Cryptic. Subtle. Often bitter. From the grave, the characters summarize their lives. Each poem is a potential short story.
“Lucius Atherton.” The town Don Juan. Beatrice made Dante great. Lucius’s affairs brought him to the dregs of life. Love can ennoble or it can debase. p. 78.
“Homer Clapp.” Portrait of a loser or a fool. He respects the town whore and another man uses her. Shocked to find that this was so, Homer invests the money from his inheritance in a cannery hoping to gain the job as head accountant and loses it all. Only death makes a man equal to other men. p. 79.
“Deacon Taylor.” The deacon was a secret drunk. While the town thought he died eating watermelon, he actually died of cirrhosis of the liver. p. 80.
“Cooney Potter.” A man who sacrifices everything—his own life, the lives of members of his family—to add an increasing number of acres to his own; dies an early death at 60. p. 82.
“Fiddler Jones.” Fiddling was all he wanted to do and so he fiddled. It was a good life. p. 83.
“Louise Smith.” Allowing an engagement for many years without marriage results in her fiancé’s marrying someone else. Having had the engagement broken, she worries and frets to the degree that her love becomes hatred. Better that she let the broken love mature into a “beautiful sorrow.” p. 85.
“Herbert Marshall.” Browning’s elective affinities. Herbert dropped Louise, not because of wantonness, but because she was not his fulfillment. However, she is aware that he was her fulfillment. “This is life’s sorrow: / That one can be happy only where two are; / And that our hearts are drawn to stars/ Which want us not.” p. 86.
“George Gray.” The life of George Gray was a “boat longing for the sea, but afraid to put out to sea.” We must actively pursue life, not fear its chances and dangers. It is this active pursuit despite chances and dangers that gives meaning to life. “I have studied many times / The marble which was chiseled for me—/a boat with furled sail at rest in a harbor. / In truth, it pictures not my destination /But my life.” “It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.” p. 87.
“Hon. Henry Bennett.” January/May marriage. All of the wisdom and knowledge of the Hon. Henry Bennett are nothing to young Jenny who admires the brawn and physical strength of Willard. And now Jenny has the Hon. Bennett’s fortune and has married brawny Willard. p. 88.
“Griffey the Cooper.” Life is like a tub holding us in. We need to go over the rim, to go beyond our own narrow view of the world. p. 89.
To be continued.