Selected Epitaphs

by Countee Cullen

For an Evolutionist and His Opponents

Showing that our ways agreed,
    Death is proof enough;
Body seeks the primal clay,
    Soul transcends the slough.

For an Anarchist

What matters that I stormed and swore?
    Not Samson with an ass’s jaw,
Not though a forest of hair he wore,
    Could break death’s adamantine law.

For a Pessimist

He wore his coffin for a hat,
    Calamity his cape,
While on his face a death’s-head sat
    And waved a bit of crape.

For a Philosopher

Here lies one who tried to solve
    The riddle of being and breath:
The wee blind mole that gnaws his bones
    Tells him the answer is death.

For a Fool

On earth the wise man makes the rules,
    And is the fool’s advisor,
But here the wise are as the fools,
    (And no man is the wiser).

For John Keats, Apostle of Beauty

Not writ in water, nor in mist,
    Sweet lyric throat, thy name;
Thy singing lips that cold death kissed
    Have seared his own with flame.

For Paul Laurence Dunbar

Born of the sorrowful of heart,
    Mirth was a crown upon his head;
Pride kept his twisted lips apart
    In jest, to hide a heart that bled.

For Joseph Conrad

Not of the dust, but of the wave
His final couch should be;
They lie not easy in a grave
Who once have known the sea.
How shall earth’s meagre bed enthrall
The hardiest seaman of them all?

From Color (1925), by Countee Cullen.