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Our undercroft had housed our dead
Unseen, in gloomy sepulture.  
But pagan chieftains much prefer
Barrows, where height can show instead.  
And the busier departments need
Those lowest levels for their work.
Glib passers-by avoid that murk,
And absent bosses don’t impede.      
Ensconsed where corpses decomposed,
Those in cubicles will thrive, unvexed,
And never taken from their desks,
They’ll finish the great work imposed.  
Interrers from a raucous age
Buried their kings and queens in mounds.
Since robbers filch, and greed abounds,
The wise entombed their heritage.  
Sarcophaguses, then the norm,  
Are too chilly for a comfy bed.  
The dawn should kiss those lids of lead,
To heat what blankets cannot warm.
Rather than burying in hills,
Top those barrows with their occupants.  
These somber monuments enhance
What would be dowdy domiciles.  
Coffins as cenotaphs and plaques,
Allow the dead to bask in sun,
And feel what veneration’s done.  
Hilltops make the best catafalques.
Michael R Burch May 2020
Athenian Epitaphs
by Michael R. Burch

These are epitaphs placed on gravestones and monuments by the ancient Greeks in remembrance of their dead.

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gulls
in their high, lonely circuits may tell.
—Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

Tell the Spartans we lie
Lifeless at Thermopylae:
Dead at their word,
Obedient to their command.
Have they heard?
Do they understand?
—Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Since I'm dead sea-enclosed Cyzicus shrouds my bones.
Faretheewell, O my adoptive land that suckled and nurtured me;
Once again I take rest at your breast.
—Michael R. Burch, after Erycius

These men earned a crown of imperishable glory,
nor did the maelstrom of death obscure their story.
—Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

He lies in state tonight: great is his Monument!
Yet Ares cares not, neither does War relent.
—Michael R. Burch, after Anacreon

They observed our fearful fetters,
marched to confront the surrounding darkness;
now we extol their excellence.
Bravely, they died for us.
—Michael R. Burch, after Mnasalcas

Be ashamed, O mountains and seas,
that these valorous men lack breath.
Assume, like pale chattels,
an ashen silence at death.
—Michael R. Burch, after Parmenio

Stripped of her stripling, if asked, she'd confess:
"I am now less than nothingness."
—Michael R. Burch, after Diotimus

Blame not the gale, nor the inhospitable sea-gulf, nor friends' tardiness,
mariner! Just man's foolhardiness.
—Michael R. Burch, after Leonidas of Tarentum

Stranger, flee!
But may Fortune grant you all the prosperity
she denied me.
—Michael R. Burch, after Leonidas of Tarentum

I am loyal to you, master, even in the grave:
just as you now are death's slave.
—Michael R. Burch, after Dioscorides

Having never earned a penny
nor seen a bridal gown address the floor,
still I lie here with the love of many,
to be the love of yet one more.
—Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Little I knew—a child of five—
of what it means to be alive
and all life's little thrills;
but little also—(I was glad not to know)—
of life's great ills.
—Michael R. Burch, after Lucian

I lie by stark Icarian rocks
and only speak when the sea talks.
Please tell my dear father I gave up the ghost
on the Aegean coast.
—Michael R. Burch, after Theatetus

Everywhere the sea is the sea, the dead are the dead.
What difference to me—where I rest my head?
The sea knows I'm buried.
—Michael R. Burch, after Antipater of Sidon

Pity this boy who was beautiful, but died.
Pity his monument, overlooking this hillside.
Pity the world that bore him, then foolishly survived.
—Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Insatiable Death! I was only a child!
Why did you ****** me away, in my infancy,
from those destined to love me?
—Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Tell Nicagoras that Strymonias
at the setting of the Kids
lost his.
—Michael R. Burch, after Nicaenetus

Now his voice is prisoned in the silent pathways of the night:
his owner's faithful Maltese...
but will he still bark again, on sight?
—Michael R. Burch, after Tymnes

Poor partridge, poor partridge, lately migrated from the rocks;
our cat bit off your unlucky head; my offended heart still balks!
I put you back together again and buried you, so unsightly!
May the dark earth cover you heavily: heavily, not lightly...
so she shan't get at you again!
—Michael R. Burch, after Agathias

Dead as you are, though you lie still as stone,
huntress Lycas, my great Thessalonian hound,
the wild beasts still fear your white bones;
craggy Pelion remembers your valor,
splendid Ossa, the way you would bound
and bay at the moon for its whiteness,
bellowing as below we heard valleys resound.
And how brightly with joy you would canter and run
the strange lonely peaks of high Cithaeron!
—Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Aeschylus, graybeard, son of Euphorion,
died far away in wheat-bearing Gela;
still, the groves of Marathon may murmur of his valor
and the black-haired Mede, with his mournful clarion.
—Michael R. Burch, after Aeschylus

Not Rocky Trachis,
nor the thirsty herbage of Dryophis,
nor this albescent stone
with its dark blue lettering shielding your white bones,
nor the wild Icarian sea dashing against the steep shingles
of Doliche and Dracanon,
nor the empty earth,
nor anything essential of me since birth,
nor anything now mingles
here with the perplexing absence of you,
with what death forces us to abandon...
—Michael R. Burch, after Euphorion

Though they were steadfast among spears, dark Fate destroyed them
as they defended their native land, rich in sheep;
now Ossa's dust seems all the more woeful, where they now sleep.
—Michael R. Burch, after Aeschylus

Sail on, mariner, sail on,
for when we were perishing,
greater ships sailed on.
—Michael R. Burch, after Theodorides

We who left the thunderous surge of the Aegean
of old, now lie here on the mid-plain of Ecbatan:
farewell, dear Athens, nigh to Euboea,
farewell, dear sea!
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

My friend found me here,
a shipwrecked corpse on the beach.
He heaped these strange boulders above me.
Oh, how he would wail
that he "loved" me,
with many bright tears for his own calamitous life!
Now he sleeps with my wife
and flits like a gull in a gale
—beyond reach—
while my broken bones bleach.
—Michael R. Burch, after Callimachus

All this vast sea is his Monument.
Where does he lie—whether heaven, or hell?
Well friend, perhaps when the gulls repent—
their shriekings may tell.
—Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

Cloud-capped Geraneia, cruel mountain!
If only you had looked no further than Ister and Scythian
Tanais, had not aided the surge of the Scironian
sea's wild-spurting fountain
filling the dark ravines of snowy Meluriad!
But now he is dead:
a chill corpse in a chillier ocean—moon led—
and only an empty tomb now speaks of the long, windy voyage ahead.
—Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

His white bones lie shining on some inhospitable shore:
a son lost to his father, his tomb empty; the poor-
est beggars have happier mothers!
—Michael R. Burch, after Damegtus

The light of a single morning
exterminated the sacred offspring of Lysidice.
Nor do the angels sing.
Nor do we seek the gods' advice.
This is the grave of Nicander's lost children.
We merely weep at its bitter price.
—Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Pluto, delighting in tears,
why did you bring our son, Ariston,
to the laughterless abyss of death?
Why—why? —did the gods grant him breath,
if only for seven years?
—Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Although I had to leave the sweet sun,
only nineteen—Diogenes, hail! —
beneath the earth, let's have lots more fun:
till human desire seems weak and pale.
—Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Once sweetest of the workfellows,
our shy teller of tall tales
—fleet Crethis! —who excelled
at every childhood game...
now you sleep among long shadows
where everyone's the same...
—Michael R. Burch, after Callimachus

Passing by, passing by my oft-bewailed pillar,
shudder, my new friend to hear my tragic story:
of how my pyre was lit by the same fiery torch
meant to lead the procession to my nuptials in glory!
O Hymenaeus, why did you did change
my bridal song to a dirge? Strange!
—Michael R. Burch, after Erinna

Suddenly this grave
holds our nightingale speechless;
now she lies here like a stone,
who voice was so marvelous;
while sunlight illumining dust
proves the gods all reachless,
as our prayers prove them also
unhearing or beseechless.
—Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

I, Homenea, the chattering bright sparrow,
lie here in the hollow of a great affliction,
leaving tears to Atimetus
and all scattered—that great affection.
—Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Wert thou, O Artemis,
overbusy with thy beast-slaying hounds
when the Beast embraced me?
—Michael R. Burch, after Diodorus of Sardis

A mother only as far as the birth pangs,
my life cut short at the height of life's play:
only eighteen years old, so brief was my day.
—Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

We mourn Polyanthus, whose wife
placed him newly-wedded in an unmarked grave,
having received his luckless corpse
back from the green Aegean wave
that deposited his fleshless skeleton
gruesomely in the harbor of Torone.
—Michael R. Burch, after Phaedimus

Here Saon, son of Dicon, now rests in holy sleep:
say not that the good die, friend, lest gods and mortals weep.
—Michael R. Burch, after Callimachus

Keywords/Tags: translation, epitaph, epitaphs, eulogy, Ancient Greek, epigram, epigrams, death, mrbepi, grave, funeral, spirit, ghost, memorial, tribute, praise

by Michael R. Burch

Reason’s treason!
cries the Heart.

Love’s insane,
replies the Brain.

Originally published by Light

The Greatest of These ...
by Michael R. Burch

The hands that held me tremble.
The arms that lifted

Angelic flesh, now parchment,
is held together with gauze.

But her undimmed eyes still embrace me;
there infinity can be found.

I can almost believe such love
will reach me, underground.


Fairest Diana
by Michael R. Burch

Fairest Diana, princess of dreams,
born to be loved and yet distant and lone,
why did you linger―so solemn, so lovely―
an orchid ablaze in a crevice of stone?

Was not your heart meant for tenderest passions?
Surely your lips―for wild kisses, not vows!
Why then did you languish, though lustrous, becoming
a pearl of enchantment cast before sows?

Fairest Diana, as fragile as lilac,
as willful as rainfall, as true as the rose;
how did a stanza of silver-bright verse
come to be bound in a book of dull prose?

Published by Tucumcari Literary Journal and Night Roses

Will There Be Starlight
for Princess Diana
by Michael R. Burch

Will there be starlight
while she gathers
and lilac
and sweet-scented heathers?

And will she find flowers,
or will she find thorns
guarding the petals
of roses unborn?

Will there be starlight
while she gathers
and mussels
and albatross feathers?

And will she find treasure
or will she find pain
at the end of this rainbow
of moonlight on rain?

She Was Very Strange, and Beautiful
for Princess Diana
by Michael R. Burch

She was very strange, and beautiful,
like a violet mist enshrouding hills
before night falls
when the hoot owl calls
and the cricket trills
and the envapored moon hangs low and full.

She was very strange, in a pleasant way,
as the hummingbird
flies madly still,
so I drank my fill
of her every word.
What she knew of love, she demurred to say.

She was meant to leave, as the wind must blow,
as the sun must set,
as the rain must fall.
Though she gave her all,
we had nothing left...
yet we smiled, bereft, in her receding glow.

The Peripheries of Love
for Princess Diana
by Michael R. Burch

Through waning afternoons we glide
the watery peripheries of love.
A silence, a quietude falls.

Above us―the sagging pavilions of clouds.
Below us―rough pebbles slowly worn smooth
grate in the gentle turbulence
of yesterday’s forgotten rains.

Later, the moon like a ******
lifts her stricken white face
and the waters rise
toward some unfathomable shore.

We sway gently in the wake
of what stirs beneath us,
yet leaves us unmoved...
curiously motionless,

as though twilight might blur
the effects of proximity and distance,
as though love might be near―

as near
as a single cupped tear of resilient dew
or a long-awaited face.

The Aery Faery Princess
for Princess Diana
by Michael R. Burch

There once was a princess lighter than fluff
made of such gossamer stuff―
the down of a thistle, butterflies’ wings,
the faintest high note the hummingbird sings,
moonbeams on garlands, stands of bright hair...
I think she’s just you when you’re floating on air.

I Pray Tonight
for Princess Diana
by Michael R. Burch

I pray tonight
the starry light
surround you.

I pray
by day
that, come what may,
no dark thing confound you.

I pray ere tomorrow
an end to your sorrow.
May angels' white chorales
sing, and astound you.

Sweet Rose of Virtue
by William Dunbar 1460-1525
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sweet rose of virtue and of gentleness,
delightful lily of youthful wantonness,
richest in bounty and in beauty clear
and in every virtue that is held most dear―
except only that death is merciless.

Into your garden, today, I followed you;
there I saw flowers of freshest hue,
both white and red, delightful to see,
and wholesome herbs, waving resplendently―
yet everywhere, no odor but rue.

I fear that March with his last arctic blast
has slain my fair rose of pallid and gentle cast,
whose piteous death does my heart such pain
that, if I could, I would compose her roots again―
so comforting her bowering leaves have been.
Welcome to the graveyard
for those not forgotten,
and for friends who turned foes
to have some place to rot in.

Her name was Sophia.
She was my friend,
‘til her boyfriend’s douchebaggery
caused our friendship to end.

Here lies Michaela
who couldn’t care less
about facing the problems
we all would address.

Cody was trouble,
no surprise to all.
But he’d make you feel special,
then leave when you fall.

Beloved Jennifer
who moved far away.
“We’ll still keep in touch”—
the last I heard her say.

Kyle was funny
then he turned to a ghost
who now speaks to no one.
I miss him the most.
Janelle Tanguin Feb 2017
Do you remember the questions
you used to ask about dying?
About grief and then pain
that wash over you in freezing pales of regret?
Are you supposed to remember every minuscule detail
before you completely forget?

You choke on your own verses
to convince yourself
and then everyone else
about acceptance--
the magic that should lead to recovery
yet, knowing that
most poems
are just lengthy epitaphs
for all the people
we refuse to bury alive;
that most poets die
as they try to relive
faded images,
wishing they could
turn back time.

There is love in lamentation--
in how the living die with the dead;
how years of November air
become the oxygen
that slowly suffocates them,
how the things they love most
create consuming black holes
they still succumb to
long after
their beloved's faux passing.
Alex B May 2015
Maybe I should go back to writing epitaphs.
So then, when it's time to attone, I'll have one for my own gravestone.
I'll use up my life debating what to put on a rock.
And the words I choose will silent words,
Because I have a mind to say with no body to obey.

— The End —