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Edgar Lee Masters
Edgar Lee Masters
Born in Kansas in 1868, Edgar Lee Masters wrote several collections of verse, including the popular Spoon River Anthology in 1915...
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Death, Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets

 

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, letís to the fieldsÖ
After a little walk and by your pardon,
I think Iíll sleep, there is no sweeter thing.
Nor fate more blessed than to sleep.

I am a dream out of a blessed sleep—
Letís 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.


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Browse Poets' Gravesites by State

California
Charles Bukowski Green Hills Memorial Park Rancho Palos Verdes
Robinson Jeffers Cremated; ashes scattered at his home Carmel
Kenneth Rexroth Santa Barbara Cemetery Santa Barbara
 
Colorado
Edward Dorn Green Mountain Cemetery Boulder
Mina Loy Aspen Grove Cemetery Aspen
 
Connecticut
Stephen Vincent Benét Evergreen Cemetery Stonington
James Merrill Evergreen Cemetery Stonington
Wallace Stevens Cedar Hill Cemetery Hartford
 
Florida
Reginald Shepherd Cremated; ashes currently at his home Pensacola
 
Georgia
Conrad Aiken Bonaventure Cemetery Savannah
 
Illinois
Gwendolyn Brooks Lincoln Cemetery Worth
Edgar Lee Masters Oakland Cemetery Petersburg
Carl Sandburg Carl Sandburg Park Galesburg
Shel Silverstein Westlawn Cemetery Chicago
 
Iowa
Donald Justice Oakland Cemetery Iowa City
 
Maine
Edwin Arlington Robinson Oak Grave Cemetery Gardiner
 
Maryland
Dorothy Parker Cremated; ashes scattered at the Dorothy Parker memorial garden, NAACP headquarters Baltimore
Edgar Allan Poe Westminster Cemetery Baltimore
 
Massachusetts
Elizabeth Bishop Hope Cemetery Worcester
Anne Bradstreet Burying Point Cemetery Salem
Robert Creeley Mount Auburn Cemetery Cambridge
E. E. Cummings Forest Hills Cemetery Boston
Emily Dickinson West Cemetery Amherst
Ralph Waldo Emerson Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Concord
Jack Kerouac Edson Cemetery Lowell
Stanley Kunitz Provincetown Town Cemetery Provincetown
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Mount Auburn Cemetery Cambridge
Amy Lowell Mount Auburn Cemetery Cambridge
Archibald MacLeish Pine Grove Cemetery Shelburne Falls
Charles Olson Beechbrook Cemetery Gloucester
Anne Sexton Forest Hills Cemetery Boston
Henry David Thoreau Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Concord
John Updike Cremated; ashes scattered Beverly Farms
Phillis Wheatley Copps Hill Burying Ground Boston
John Greenleaf Whittier Union Cemetery Amesbury
 
Michigan
Edgar Guest Woodlawn Cemetery Detroit
Theodore Roethke Oakwood Cemetery Saginaw
 
Minnesota
John Berryman Resurrection Cemetery Mendota Heights
 
Missouri
Sara Teasdale Bellefontaine Cemetery Saint Louis
 
New Hampshire
Richard Eberhart Dartmouth College Cemetery Hanover
Jane Kenyon Proctor Cemetery Andover
Robert Lowell Stark Cemetery Dunbarton
Ogden Nash East Side Cemetery North Hampton
May Sarton Nelson Cemetery Nelson
 
New Jersey
Stephen Crane Evergreen Cemetery Hillside
Allen Ginsberg B'Nai Israel Cemetery Newark
Jackson Mac Low Cedar Park Cemetery Oradell
Delmore Schwartz Cedar Park Cemetery Emerson
Walt Whitman Harleigh Cemetery Camden
William Carlos Williams Hillside Cemetery Lyndhurst
 
New Mexico
D.H. Lawrence Kiowa Ranch San Cristobal
 
New York
James Agee Agee Family Farm Hillsdale
Ted Berrigan Calverton National Cemetery Calverton
Louise Bogan Cremated; ashes scattered Greenwich Village
William Cullen Bryant Roslyn Cemetery Roslyn
Adelaide Crapsey Mount Hope Cemetery Rochester
Countee Cullen Woodlawn Cemetery Bronx
Anthony Hecht Bard College Annandale
Langston Hughes Cremated; ashes buried in the Schomburg Library of African American Culture, Harlem New York
James Weldon Johnson Green-Wood Cemetery Brooklyn
Emma Lazarus Beth Olom Cemetery Queens
Claude McKay Calvary Cemetery Woodside
Edna St. Vincent Millay Steepletop Cemetery Austerlitz
Frank O'Hara Green River Cemetery East Hampton
 
North Carolina
Randall Jarrell New Garden Friends Cemetery Greensboro
 
Ohio
Paul Laurence Dunbar Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum Dayton
John Crowe
Ransom
Kenyon College Cemetery Gambier
 
Pennsylvania
William Meredith West Laurel Hill Cemetery Bala Cynwood
Marianne Moore Evergreen Cemetery Gettysburg
H.D. Nisky Hill Cemetery Bethlehem
August Wilson Greenwood Cemetery Sharpsburg
 
South Carolina
James Dickey All Saints Episcopal Church Cemetery Pawleys Island
 
Tennessee
Arna Bontemps Greenwood Cemetery Nashville
Allen Tate Sewanee Cemetery Sewanee
 
Vermont
Robert Frost Old Bennington Cemetery Bennington
Robert Penn
Warren
Willis Cemetery Stratton
 
U.S. Virgin Islands
Audre Lorde Cremated; ashes scattered at sea St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
 
Washington
Raymond Carver Ocean View Cemetery Port Angeles
Denise Levertov Lake View Cemetery Seattle
 
Wisconsin
Lorine Niedecker Union Cemetery Sumner
 
Americans Abroad
W. H. Auden Kirchstetten Churchyard Kirchstetten, Niederösterreich, Austria
Joseph Brodsky Cimitero di San Michele Venice, Italy
Gregory Corso Campo Cestio Cemetery Rome, Italy
Hart Crane Body not recovered Drowned while returning to New York from Mexico
T. S. Eliot Parish Church of St. Michael East Coker, Somerset, England
Ted Hughes Cremated; ashes scattered Dartmoor, Devon, England
Sylvia Plath St.Thomas' Churchyard Heptonstall, West Yorkshire, England
Federica Garcia Lorca Mass grave in Viznar; at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Granada, Spain
Ezra Pound San Michele Cemetery San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Italy
Gertrude Stein Cimetière du Père Lachaise Paris, France
Dylan Thomas St. Martin's Church Laugharne, Dyfed, Wales
William Wordsworth St. Oswald's Churchyard Grasmere, Cumbria, England



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