Rural Funerals

… it has a pleasing, though melancholy effect, to hear, of a still evening, in some lonely country scene, the mournful melody of a funeral dirge swelling from a distance, and to see the train slowly moving along the landscape …

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When the deceased had been unhappy in their loves, emblems of a … gloomy character were used, such as the yew and cypress; and if flowers were strewn they were of the most melancholy colors.  Thus, in poems by Thomas Stanley, Esq. (published in 1651) is the following stanza:

                         Yet strew

               Upon my dismall grave

               Such offerings as you have,

                             Forsaken cypresse and sad yewe;

For kinder flowers can take no birth

Or growth from such unhappy earth.

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There is a dismal process going on in the grave, ere dust can return to its kindred dust, which the imagination shrinks from contemplating; and we seek still to think of the form we have loved, with those refined associations which it awakened when blooming before us in youth and beauty.

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Aye, go to the grave of buried love, and meditate!

file0001875043591There settle the account with thy conscience for every past benefit unrequited—every past endearment unregarded, of that departed being, who can never—never—never return to be soothed by thy contrition!

If thou art a child, and hast ever added a sorrow to the soul, or a furrow to the silvered brow of an affectionate parent—if thou art a husband, and hast ever caused the fond bosom that ventured its whole happiness in thy arms, to doubt one moment of thy kindness or thy truth … if thou art a lover, and hast ever given one unmerited pang to that true heart which now lies cold and still beneath thy feet;—then be sure that every unkind look, every ungracious word, every ungentle action, will come thronging back upon thy memory, and knocking dolefully at thy soul—then be sure that thou wilt lie down sorrowing and repentant upon the grave, and utter the unheard groan, and pour the unavailing tear, more deep, more bitter, because unheard and unavailing.

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Then weave thy chaplet of flowers, and strew the beauties of nature about the grave; console thy broken spirit, if thou canst, with these tender, yet futile tributes of regret; but take warning by the bitterness of this thy contrite affliction over the dead, and henceforth be more faithful and affectionate in the discharge of thy duties to the living.

—Washington Irving  (1783-1859)

Excerpts from Rural Funerals, published in the Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (published 1819 – 1820)  (A reflection on grief, and an observation of rural English customs during the early 19th century.)

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