How to Write Poems – Chapter 14: The Epitaph

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An epitaph is a statement of tribute to a dead person. Epitaphs can be serious or humorous. The following poem by Sir Walter Raleigh (1552?-1618) is titled simply “Epitaph.”

Even such is time, which takes in trust

Our youth, our joys, and all we have,

And pays us but with age and dust,

Who in the dark and silent grave

When we have wandered all our ways

Shuts up the story of our days,

And from which earth, and grave, and dust

The Lord will raise me up, I trust.

The following epitaph by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) is called “Swift’s Epitaph.”

Swift has sailed into his rest;

Savage indignation there

Cannot lacerate his breast.

Imitate him if you dare,

World-besotted traveller; he

Served human liberty.

Now we will write an epitaph for Scrooge.

Ebenezer Scrooge became

A penny-pinching miser

Some words that rhyme with “became” and “miser”:

aim, blame, came, claim, dame, fame, flame, frame, game, lame, maim, name, same, shame, swaim, tame, acclaim, aflame, ballgame, declaim, defame, disclaim, exclaim, inflame, proclaim, reclaim, rename, overcame

geyser, riser, sizer, visor, wiser

Exercise: Which two words could be used to complete an abab quatrain about Scrooge?

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We can use the words “proclaim” and “wiser.”

Exercise: How would you use the two words above to complete the quatrain epitaph?

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We can write Scrooge’s epitaph this way:

Ebenezer Scrooge became

A penny-pinching miser.

But he died, I must proclaim,

A giver, and much wiser.

The fourth line does not flow very well, so we can try again.

Ebenezer Scrooge became

A misanthropic hoarder

Some words that rhyme with “hoarder”:

boarder, corder, order, warder

Let’s revise:

Ebenezer Scrooge became

A misanthropic tightwad

Some words that rhyme with “tightwad”:

god, nod, odd, plod, pod, prod, quad, rod, scrod, shod, sod, squad, trod, wad, ramrod, seedpod, slipshod, tripod

There are not many good options with those words. Let’s revise again.

Ebenezer Scrooge used to be

A penny-pinching misanthrope

Some words that rhyme with “be” and “misanthrope”:

bee, dee, fee, flea, flee, free, gee, ghee, glee, he, key, knee, lea, lee, leigh, li, me, mi, ne, nee, pea, pee, plea, pre, prix, qi, sea, see, she, ski, spree, tea, tee, the, thee, three, tree, we, wee, ye, zee

cope, dope, grope, hope, lope, mope, nope, pope, rope, scope, slope, soap, tope, allotrope, antelope, cantaloupe, envelope, epitope, gyroscope, horoscope, isotope, microscope, periscope, stethoscope, telescope, kaleidoscope, laryngoscope, ophthalmoscope, oscilloscope, stereomicroscope

Exercise: Which words above would be good candidates for the last two lines of the quatrain?

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“See” and “hope” seem like good choices.

Exercise: How would you use the two words above to complete the quatrain?

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We can write something like this:

Ebenezer Scrooge used to be (8)

A penny-pinching misanthrope (8)

But three spirits taught him to see (8)

And he died full of hope (6)

We can add two syllables to the last line to make each line eight syllables:

Ebenezer Scrooge used to be

A penny-pinching misanthrope;

But three spirits taught him to see,

And he died with nothing but hope.

This epitaph suggests that he gave away all of his money before he died. Do you think that he did?

Below is one final epitaph about Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s business partner. I don’t think it needs much explanation.

Here lies the body of Jacob Marley.

We thought he was dead… but… hardly.

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