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.
“Rev. Lemnuel Wiley.” The preacher who advised the Blisses not to get a divorce brags about how he saved the marriage and, he thinks, the children’s respectability. See “Mrs. Charles Bliss” for rebuttal. p. 113.
“Thomas Ross, Jr.” The tragedy of nature: snake eats a swallow’s brood. The swallow brings about the destruction of the snake and the swallow in turns is impaled on a thorn by a shrike. Point? He renounces his “lower nature,” the dog-eat-dog philosophy and was destroyed by his brother’s ambition. p. 114.
“Rev. Abner Peet.” Preacher’s household effects are sold at auction. But his trunk containing a lifetime of sermons is sold to a man who burns his sermons as wastepaper. p. 115.
“Jefferson Howard.” A personal battle against attitudes and beliefs he did not accept. A Southerner in a northern environment; a lover of humanity who dislikes formal religion—and then his children went into strange paths. So he remains as he has always been—alone and fighting. “And I stood alone, as I started alone!” “Facing the silence—facing the prospect / That no one would know of the fight I made.” p. 116.
“Judge Selah Lively.” Little man in body and soul becomes a judge and takes his vengeance on all of the “giants” who had sneered at him. p. 117.
“Albert Schirding.” Parent whose children were more successful than he. p. 118.
“Jonas Keene.” Parent whose children were all failures. p. 119.
“Eugenia Todd.” The gnawing pain—physical or mental—which torments you throughout life—awake and asleep. Death is a release from this pain. p. 120.
“Mary McNeely.” McNeely’s daughter who became a recluse. Her father’s repose while sitting under the cedar tree becomes the model of repose which she adopts and achieves repose herself. p. 124.
To be continued.