Classics

Best of Book Riot: The Epitaphs of Nine Famous Writers

To celebrate the end of the year, we’re running some of our favorite posts from the last six months. We’ll be back with all-new stuff on January 7th. 

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It takes a special type of person to be thinking about gravestones and ghosts on a bright, sunny summer day. But after hearing what HG Wells wanted his epitaph to be (which he never got), it made me think about what I would want mine to be. Would it be something literary since I’m such a book nut? Which then got me to think about what famous writers have chosen for their epitaphs. Below are some of the more intriguing ones I found – either because they were particularly poignant or funny… mostly because I think they say something about the writer (all, with the exception of Sylvia Plath, were either chosen by or written by the writer, so go figure).

If you can venture to be morbid with me – which is your favorite? Do you have any literary quotes that you think would make a good epitaph?

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Robert Frost

I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

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Virginia Woolf

Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death! – The Waves

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John Keats

Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. – The Great Gatsby

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Dorothy Parker

Excuse my dust.

(Dorothy Parker was cremated, so the epitaph she chose was included on her memorial plaque.)

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Sylvia Plath

Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted.

(Poet, Ted Hughes – Sylvia Plath’s husband – chose this quote for her grave from Monkey by Wu Ch’Eng-En. The quote is incorrect from the original text, which reads: “even in the midst of fierce flames the Golden Lotus may be planted”.)

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Oscar Wilde

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.

(from Wilde’s poem,  The Battle of Reading Goal)

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William Shakespeare

Good Friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here:
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

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HG Wells

Goddamn you all: I told you so.

(HG Wells was cremated, and though he wanted the above as his epitaph – it was not included on any of his memorial plaques. This one happens to be my favorite.)