poem index

Death, Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets


February 19, 2014
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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 their wishes after death, the decisions about how to celebrate their life are left to friends and family. Some poets' graves are more spectacular or elaborate than that poet 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; a gravestone marks the place where her widower, former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall, will someday join her beneath a headstone that already bears his name.

Browse Poets' Gravesites by State

Charles Bukowski: buried at Green Hills Memorial Park, Rancho Palos Verdes
Robinson Jeffers: Cremated; ashes scattered at his home in Carmel
Kenneth Rexroth: buried at Santa Barbara Cemetery in Santa Barbara

Edward Dorn: buried at Green Mountain Cemetery in Boulder
Mina Loy: buried at Aspen Grove Cemetery in Aspen

Stephen Vincent Benét: buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Stonington
James Merrill: buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Stonington
Wallace Stevens: buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford

Reginald Shepherd: Cremated; ashes currently at his home in Pensacola

Conrad Aiken: buried at Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah

Gwendolyn Brooks: buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Worth
Edgar Lee Masters: buried at Oakland Cemetery in Petersburg
Carl Sandburg: buried at Carl Sandburg Park in Galesburg
Shel Silverstein: buried at Westlawn Cemetery in Chicago

Donald Justice: buried at Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City

Edwin Arlington Robinson: buried at Oak Grave Cemetery in Gardiner

Dorothy Parker: Cremated; ashes scattered at the Dorothy Parker memorial garden, NAACP headquarters in Baltimore
Edgar Allan Poe: buried at Westminster Cemetery in Baltimore

Elizabeth Bishop: buried at Hope Cemetery in Worcester
Anne Bradstreet: buried at Burying Point Cemetery in Salem
Robert Creeley: buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge
E. E. Cummings: buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston
Emily Dickinson: buried at West Cemetery in Amherst
Ralph Waldo Emerson: buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord
Jack Kerouac: buried at Edson Cemetery in Lowell
Stanley Kunitz: buried at Provincetown Cemetery in Provincetown
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge
Amy Lowell: buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge
Archibald MacLeish: buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Shelburne Falls
Charles Olson: buried at Beechbrook Cemetery in Gloucester
Anne Sexton: buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston
Henry David Thoreau: buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord
John Updike: cremated; ashes scattered in Beverly Farms
Phillis Wheatley: buried at Copps Hill Burying Ground in Boston
John Greenleaf Whittier: buried at Union Cemetery in Amesbury

Edgar Guest: buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit
Theodore Roethke: buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Saginaw

John Berryman: buried at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights

Sara Teasdale: buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery in Saint Louis

Richard Eberhart: buried at Dartmouth College Cemetery in Hanover
Jane Kenyon: buried at Proctor Cemetery in Andover
Robert Lowell: buried at Stark Cemetery in Dunbarton
Ogden Nash: buried at East Side Cemetery in North Hampton
May Sarton: buried at Nelson Cemetery in Nelson

Stephen Crane: buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside
Allen Ginsberg: buried at B'Nai Israel Cemetery in Newark
Jackson Mac Low: buried at Cedar Park Cemetery in Oradell
Delmore Schwartz: buried at Cedar Park Cemetery in Emerson
Walt Whitman: buried at Harleigh Cemetery in Camden
William Carlos Williams: buried at Hillside Cemetery in Lyndhurst

D. H. Lawrence: buried at Kiowa Ranch San Cristobal

James Agee: buried at Agee Family Farm in Hillsdale
Ted Berrigan: buried at Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton
Louise Bogan: cremated; ashes scattered in Greenwich Village
William Cullen Bryant: buried at Roslyn Cemetery in Roslyn
Adelaide Crapsey: buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester
Countee Cullen: buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx
Anthony Hecht: buried at Bard College in Annandale
Langston Hughes: cremated; ashes buried in the Schomburg Library of African American Culture in Harlem
James Weldon Johnson: buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn
Emma Lazarus: buried at Beth Olom Cemetery in Queens
Claude McKay: buried at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside
Edna St. Vincent Millay: buried at Steepletop Cemetery in Austerlitz
Frank O'Hara: buried at Green River Cemetery in East Hampton

Randall Jarrell: buried at New Garden Friends Cemetery in Greensboro

Paul Laurence Dunbar: buried at Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum in Dayton
John Crowe Ransom: buried at Kenyon College Cemetery in Gambier

William Meredith: buried at West Laurel Hill Cemetery Bala in Cynwood
Marianne Moore: buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg
H. D.: buried at Nisky Hill Cemetery in Bethlehem
August Wilson: buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Sharpsburg

James Dickey: buried at All Saints Episcopal Church Cemetery in Pawleys Island

Arna Bontemps: buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Nashville
Allen Tate: buried at Sewanee Cemetery in Sewanee

Robert Frost: buried at Old Bennington Cemetery in Bennington
Robert Penn Warren: buried at Willis Cemetery in Stratton, U.S. Virgin Islands
Audre Lorde: cremated; ashes scattered at sea St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Raymond Carver: buried at Ocean View Cemetery in Port Angeles
Denise Levertov: buried at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle

Lorine Niedecker: buried at Union Cemetery in Sumner Americans

W. H. Auden: buried at Kirchstetten Churchyard Kirchstetten in Niederösterreich, Austria
Joseph Brodsky: buried at Cimitero di San Michele in Venice, Italy
Gregory Corso: buried at Campo Cestio Cemetery in Rome, Italy
T. S. Eliot: buried at Parish Church of St. Michael in East Coker, Somerset, England
Ted Hughes: cremated; ashes scattered in Dartmoor, Devon, England
Sylvia Plath: buried at St.Thomas' Churchyard Heptonstall in West Yorkshire, England
Federico García Lorca: buried at Mass grave in Viznar; at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in Granada, Spain
Ezra Pound: buried at San Michele Cemetery in San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Italy
Gertrude Stein: buried at Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris, France
Dylan Thomas: buried at St. Martin's Churchin Laugharne, Dyfed, Wales
William Wordsworth: buried at St. Oswald's Churchyard in Grasmere, Cumbria, England

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