poem index

Death, Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets

Year

2014

 

In Spoon River Anthology, a collection of monologues from the dead in an Illinois graveyard, Edgar Lee Masters combines free verse, epitaph, realism, and cynicism to give living voice to characters who can no longer speak. Though the Spoon River of the title is the name of an actual river in Illinois, the fictional town combines Lewistown, where Masters grew up, and Petersburg, where his grandparents lived—and where the poet is now buried in Oakland Cemetery. His epitaph includes his poem, "To-morrow is My Birthday" from Toward the Gulf (1918):

Good friends, let’s to the fields…
After a little walk and by your pardon,
I think I’ll sleep, there is no sweeter thing.
Nor fate more blessed than to sleep.

I am a dream out of a blessed sleep—
Let’s walk, and hear the lark.

 

 

On first read, the choice may seem an unfit memorial for a poet who famously chose to let his characters speak rather than leaving them to rest in peace. Though a person may express wishes, after death the decisions about how to celebrate life are left to friends and family. Some poets' graves are more spectacular or elaborate than an author may have chosen for himself. For example, the poet D. H. Lawrence's remains were cremated, then his ashes were mixed in with cement to build an altar on a ranch in New Mexico.

Many others seem less substantial a final resting place than what the poets' work has earned. Sylvia Plath's grave in Yorkshire, England, is relatively unkempt, despite the tulips often left for her. Enthusiasts of E. E. Cummings have little more than a ground marker to visit when paying their respects, in miniature next to his wife's Clarke family stone.

 

For those who visit gravesites of poets they admire, however, it is not about the grandeur of the spot, but about communing with the individuals. More often than not, a grave may seem a perfect fit for a poet: Ralph Waldo Emerson's plot in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts, is marked by a large, naturally jagged boulder; Walt Whitman's tomb in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, New Jersey, is grand yet rustic, lush with foliage and solitary—yet colorful, with American flags left by visitors.

William Carlos Williams's grave is spare and straightforward. Langston Hughes's remains were cremated, and the ashes were buried under the floorboards of the Schomburg Library of African American Culture in Harlem, under a plaque of one of his poems. Longtime civil rights advocate Dorothy Parker's ashes were scattered in a memorial garden created in her name at the NAACP headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.

 

Because gravesites of famous individuals often become destinations for fans and tourists, it may be easy to forget that living family and friends also visit the spot to honor their deceased loved one—the person not the icon. When poet Jane Kenyon died from leukemia in 1995, her body was taken to Proctor Cemetery in Andover, New Hampshire, where a gravestone marks the place where her widower, former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall, will someday join her beneath a headstone, which already bears his name.

Browse Poets' Gravesites by State

California
Charles BukowskiGreen Hills Memorial ParkRancho Palos Verdes
Robinson JeffersCremated; ashes scattered at his homeCarmel
Kenneth RexrothSanta Barbara CemeterySanta Barbara
 
Colorado
Edward DornGreen Mountain CemeteryBoulder
Mina LoyAspen Grove CemeteryAspen
 
Connecticut
Stephen Vincent BenétEvergreen CemeteryStonington
James MerrillEvergreen CemeteryStonington
Wallace StevensCedar Hill CemeteryHartford
 
Florida
Reginald ShepherdCremated; ashes currently at his homePensacola
 
Georgia
Conrad AikenBonaventure CemeterySavannah
 
Illinois
Gwendolyn BrooksLincoln CemeteryWorth
Edgar Lee MastersOakland CemeteryPetersburg
Carl SandburgCarl Sandburg ParkGalesburg
Shel SilversteinWestlawn CemeteryChicago
 
Iowa
Donald JusticeOakland CemeteryIowa City
 
Maine
Edwin Arlington RobinsonOak Grave CemeteryGardiner
 
Maryland
Dorothy ParkerCremated; ashes scattered at the Dorothy Parker memorial garden, NAACP headquartersBaltimore
Edgar Allan PoeWestminster CemeteryBaltimore
 
Massachusetts
Elizabeth BishopHope CemeteryWorcester
Anne BradstreetBurying Point CemeterySalem
Robert CreeleyMount Auburn CemeteryCambridge
E. E. CummingsForest Hills CemeteryBoston
Emily DickinsonWest CemeteryAmherst
Ralph Waldo EmersonSleepy Hollow CemeteryConcord
Jack KerouacEdson CemeteryLowell
Stanley KunitzProvincetown Town CemeteryProvincetown
Henry Wadsworth LongfellowMount Auburn CemeteryCambridge
Amy LowellMount Auburn CemeteryCambridge
Archibald MacLeishPine Grove CemeteryShelburne Falls
Charles OlsonBeechbrook CemeteryGloucester
Anne SextonForest Hills CemeteryBoston
Henry David ThoreauSleepy Hollow CemeteryConcord
John UpdikeCremated; ashes scatteredBeverly Farms
Phillis WheatleyCopps Hill Burying GroundBoston
John Greenleaf WhittierUnion CemeteryAmesbury
 
Michigan
Edgar GuestWoodlawn CemeteryDetroit
Theodore RoethkeOakwood CemeterySaginaw
 
Minnesota
John BerrymanResurrection CemeteryMendota Heights
 
Missouri
Sara TeasdaleBellefontaine CemeterySaint Louis
 
New Hampshire
Richard EberhartDartmouth College CemeteryHanover
Jane KenyonProctor CemeteryAndover
Robert LowellStark CemeteryDunbarton
Ogden NashEast Side CemeteryNorth Hampton
May SartonNelson CemeteryNelson
 
New Jersey
Stephen CraneEvergreen CemeteryHillside
Allen GinsbergB'Nai Israel CemeteryNewark
Jackson Mac LowCedar Park CemeteryOradell
Delmore SchwartzCedar Park CemeteryEmerson
Walt WhitmanHarleigh CemeteryCamden
William Carlos WilliamsHillside CemeteryLyndhurst
 
New Mexico
D.H. LawrenceKiowa RanchSan Cristobal
 
New York
James AgeeAgee Family FarmHillsdale
Ted BerriganCalverton National CemeteryCalverton
Louise BoganCremated; ashes scatteredGreenwich Village
William Cullen BryantRoslyn CemeteryRoslyn
Adelaide CrapseyMount Hope CemeteryRochester
Countee CullenWoodlawn CemeteryBronx
Anthony HechtBard CollegeAnnandale
Langston HughesCremated; ashes buried in the Schomburg Library of African American Culture, HarlemNew York 
James Weldon JohnsonGreen-Wood CemeteryBrooklyn
Emma LazarusBeth Olom CemeteryQueens
Claude McKayCalvary CemeteryWoodside
Edna St. Vincent MillaySteepletop CemeteryAusterlitz
Frank O'HaraGreen River CemeteryEast Hampton
 
 
North Carolina
Randall JarrellNew Garden Friends CemeteryGreensboro
 
Ohio
Paul Laurence DunbarWoodland Cemetery and ArboretumDayton
John Crowe
Ransom
Kenyon College CemeteryGambier
 
Pennsylvania
William MeredithWest Laurel Hill CemeteryBala Cynwood
Marianne MooreEvergreen CemeteryGettysburg
H.D.Nisky Hill CemeteryBethlehem
August WilsonGreenwood CemeterySharpsburg
 
South Carolina
James DickeyAll Saints Episcopal Church CemeteryPawleys Island
 
Tennessee
Arna BontempsGreenwood CemeteryNashville
Allen TateSewanee CemeterySewanee
 
Vermont
Robert FrostOld Bennington CemeteryBennington
Robert Penn
Warren
Willis CemeteryStratton
 
U.S. Virgin Islands
Audre LordeCremated; ashes scattered at seaSt. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
 
Washington
Raymond CarverOcean View CemeteryPort Angeles
Denise LevertovLake View CemeterySeattle
 
Wisconsin
Lorine NiedeckerUnion CemeterySumner
 
Americans Abroad
W. H. AudenKirchstetten ChurchyardKirchstetten, Niederösterreich, Austria
Joseph BrodskyCimitero di San MicheleVenice, Italy
Gregory CorsoCampo Cestio CemeteryRome, Italy
Hart CraneBody not recoveredDrowned while returning to New York from Mexico
T. S. EliotParish Church of St. MichaelEast Coker, Somerset, England
Ted HughesCremated; ashes scatteredDartmoor, Devon, England
Sylvia PlathSt.Thomas' ChurchyardHeptonstall, West Yorkshire, England
Federica Garcia LorcaMass grave in Viznar; at the foot of the Sierra NevadaGranada, Spain
Ezra PoundSan Michele CemeterySan Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Italy
Gertrude SteinCimetière du Père LachaiseParis, France
Dylan ThomasSt. Martin's ChurchLaugharne, Dyfed, Wales
William WordsworthSt. Oswald's ChurchyardGrasmere, Cumbria, England



Photos courtesy of Peter K Steinberg, Cameron Self, and Chuck Will.

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