Fergus offers further advice on choosing an epitaph, with over 200 more examples from poetry, literature and lyrics.
Fergus has been helping clients to choose the right words to go on a headstone for the past fifteen years. Together with him, I have written this article to help you choose an epitaph, a process that people often find very difficult. Be kind to yourself and take your time and you may stumble on the perfect epitaph when you least expect it. For example, I found a beautiful one last night at the end of my son’s chapel service:
And let light perpetual shine upon them.
Following this advice, there is a list of over 200 beautiful epitaph ideas and headstone quotes.
An epitaph is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as a phrase or form of words written in memory of a person who has died, especially as an inscription on a tombstone. The word derives from the Greek ephitaphios ‘over or at a tomb’, from epi ‘upon’ + taphos ‘tomb’ and originates with Greek practice of delivery funeral orations.
Epitaphs have always been a way of showing our love for our loved ones. The act of love, shaped with both sadness and hope, is similar to the task crafted words might take on. Choosing an epitaph is one of the most difficult things to do, but it can also be a wonderful opportunity to discover the wonderful literature on what makes us human.
Epitaphs are probably as old as the art of writing. Even the most ancient structures in the world such as the Egyptian pyramids are supposed to be sepulchral monuments. Their invention most likely stemmed from an underlying feeling we often share of transcendence and immortality and epitaphs historically reflect the pathos of death, the joy of the life beyond it, and a celebration of the life of the departed.
Choosing an epitaph is thus a tradition that has been going since the earliest of times. Some of the earliest Greek epitaphs are beautiful such as this translation of some lines found on a tomb of Sophocles:
Wind, gentle evergreen, to form a shade
Around the tomb where Sophocles is laid.
Sweet ivy wind thy boughs and intertwine
With blushing roses and the clustering vine.
Then shall thy lasting leaves, with beauties hung,
Prove grateful emblems of the lays he sung.
The Roman epitaphs that followed tended to be shorter more repetitive. There are some lovely examples though such as this one:
Adieu Septimia; may the earth lie light upon thee. Whoever places a burning lamp before this tomb, may golden soil cover his ashes.
There are many places you can look but I find poetry the most inspiring source. TS Eliot wrote in Little Gidding:
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning. Every poem an epitaph.
Other sources of inspiration include lyrics, literature, especially the beginning of books, where there might be a poem or quotation, your loved one and what they said or wrote, and other gravestones. I have spent hours looking around churchyards for inspiration and you never know what you will discover.
When choosing an epitaph you might bear in mind that it can have several purposes:
1. An epitaph tells the world how you felt about your loved one, often in a few simple words such as “so loved”. Try to focus on celebrating your love for them, rather than your grief. This can be very hard at first, and for that reason, we always advise waiting at least a year before choosing a headstone, when your emotions have settled a little.
2. An epitaph may tell the world something about the character or achievements of your loved one. Although people often describe their position in the family, such as “much-loved mother and grandmother”, you might want to expand on this, with something which captures their essence, such as “uncompromisingly unique”.
3. It conveys a timeless message to the world, which draws people in to stop and think. It might be about mortality, love, beauty, God, loss, hope, or nature for example. A couple of lines from a poem might hint at something much deeper than the lines themselves, a message that only those who read the whole poem will understand.
4. The words you choose might be something spoken by your loved one. For example, my mother who recently died wanted “we will be with you in spirit” on her stone. These words will comfort me when I visit the stone, as I will hear her voice each time I visit.
5. This brings me on one of the most important purposes, which is to heal, comfort and console you when you visit your loved one. The words should make you smile, to think of your loved one, to share in some secret with them, to feel closer to them. Try to find something that will stand the test of time for generations to come, but at the same time don’t forget the healing power of a memorial and the importance of choosing something that speaks to your heart.
The words you choose will be in part determined by the length of the inscription. This, in turn, will depend on the size of the stone you are allowed, and whether or not you can add an inscription to the back of the stone. The reverse of a stone can be a good place for a longer inscription. The space around the words chosen on the headstone can be as important as the words themselves, which is why Fergus often says “less is more” when choosing an epitaph. Sometimes when there is no room on the stone above ground, we've been asked to add an inscription below ground level and even though no one can see it, it becomes a secret exchange between two people.
The following list has been compiled over two years, and I have not arranged the epitaphs in any particular order other than length, starting with shorter ones. This is in hope that the list will not be prescriptive or limiting, but inspiring and surprising. Many of the quotes come from longer poems, and in some cases, I have included a verse from the poem, with the suggested epitaph in italics, and at other times, I have only included a line, in which case you might like to do a Google search to find the whole poem. This is our second list of epitaphs, the first contains over 150 epitaphs and further advice on choosing an inscription.
Before committing an epitaph to stone, it would be worth double-checking the source and attribution because although I have tried to be accurate, I cannot guarantee there are no mistakes.
A treasured life together.
In beloved and abiding memory of ….
All that we were to each other that we still are.
Bring me sunshine.
What a love was theirs.
Loved so well.
Love as much as possible in this imperfect world.
Our lives are poorer without you.
One in joy, light and love.
We will be with you in spirit.
The best is yet to be. Robert Browning
David (or insert name) Beloved (in this case David actually means beloved but you could insert any name such as John Beloved)
He/She came and went and never ceased to smile.
Cover lightly, gentle earth. Ben Jonson
Loved and was loved.
We loved him.
How many hopes lie buried here?
Glory is praise for deeds which have been done. Cicero
We shall meet beyond the river.
Ever of thee I'm fondly dreaming. George Linley
In memory is the most beautiful refuge. Paolo Cognetti, The Eight Mountains
I am gone into the fields to take what this sweet hour yields. Shelley
I’ll see you on the other side of the stars.
A broken melody.
Love is enough.
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more. Tennyson
The moon rose over an open field. Simon and Garfunkel
When it is dark enough you can see the stars. Charles A Beard
Your life was a blessing, Your memory a treasure.
Loved with everlasting love.
May the earth lie light upon thee.
In loving and grateful memory of …
Good and faithful servants.
In their death they are not divided.
In memory of my sweet ideal.
What then is death, asked the Sufi. It is like a holy mirror reflecting purity; so lovers of wine can drink deep from the font of immortality.
To know him was to love him.
Those who seek me with all their heart shall find me where they least expect.
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
My sun sets to rise again. Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Keep my memory green. Charles Dickens
I’m the guiding light in your dreams and I’ll be travelling by your side
Hitch your wagon to a star. Emerson
Speak your love still once again.
Safe home at last.
They loved each other and taught us that love.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember him.
Who falls for love of God shall rise a star. Jonson
Back home with the friends I knew.
We are stardust.
I Am What I Am.
I Am Yours.
With the sun and the skies and the birds above me.
The pleasure was all ours.
Time passes, love remains.
Some days there won't be a song in your heart. Sing anyway. Emory Austin
Silent alone amid a Heaven of Song. Keats
In the garden wet with rain, and our souls were young again. adapted from lyrics by Van Morrison
Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.
And if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.
Bearing much fruit.
Softly at night
The stars are shining on you.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach. Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit for ever. The Bhagavad-Gita Book 2
Your life was a blessing, your memory a treasure.
Love forever true.
Bend closer, listen, I love you. Alden Nowlan
Just whisper my name in your heart and I will be there.
We are eternal beings having a temporary human existence. Wayne Dyer
Into the sunshine.
Gone. And the light of all our life gone with him/her.
I together with thee.
Sing a song of joy and bless on earth our peaceful days. Thomas Campion
My second self and best earthly companion. Charlotte Bronte
Find sanctuary by the whispering shady trees.
For what we lose comes around in another form. Rumi
Lo, one we loved.
Meet me in heaven.
The Lord is my shepherd.
The song is ended but the melody lingers on…Irving Berlin
Real love stories never have endings.
Tears water our growth. William Shakespeare
If winter comes, can spring be far behind? Shelley
Dance, then, wherever you may be. Sydney Carter, from Lord of the Dance
It is the spirit that builds for itself a body. Schiller
In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. Abraham Lincoln
Keep your face always toward the sunshine - and shadows will fall behind you. Walt Whitman
Do anything, but let it produce joy. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Grief is the price we pay for love. Queen Elizabeth II
Give me the splendid, silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Say not ‘Good-night’ but in some brighter clime, bid me ‘Good-morning.’ Anna Laetitia Barbauld
Fair winds and following seas.
And life is all the sweeter that he/she lived.
I’m the guiding light in your dreams and I’ll be travelling by your side.
Loved and lost awhile.
The people you love become ghosts inside of you, and like this you keep them alive.
Be good to one another.The sweetest thoughts in life are memories of days that have been.
In quietness and confidence.
I shall be one with the sun wind and flowers.
My God I know this place. I am home. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin
I come into the peace of wild things. Wendell Berry
And if God choose
I shall but love thee better after death. Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Those whom the gods love die young. Meander
So we’ll go no more a -roving
So late into the night. Lord Byron
Loved with such love, and with such sorrow mourned. Wordsworth
Then in the hush of twilight…I shall come home. Wilkinson
You are a song in our hearts forever.
Cover lightly gentle earth.
Morning has broken like the first morning.
Love had the final word.
Loved by so many.
So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings. Tolkein
I leave you with my legacy of love.
Love until the end of time.
The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living. Cicero
How strange this fear of death! We are never frightened at a sunset. George MacDonald
Many waters cannot quench love. Song of Solomon
Love itself will slumber on. Shelley
Sorrow looks back, Worry looks around, Faith looks up. Ralph Waldo Emmerson
Nothing divine dies.
In my end is my beginning. T S Eliot
Nothing gold can stay. Robert Frost
Give thanks always for all things.
Lead, kindly light.
Entered into light.
My life begins here.
We love thy memory.
Lights will guide you home.
No one thinks of winter when the grass is green. Kipling
May the countryside and the gliding valley streams content me. Virgil
Grace to be born and live as variously as possible.
Let the world have its own things; the spirit seeks the stars.
The past is not dead, it is living in us. William Morris
May your shadow never shorten.
You're always in my head.
A long life well lived.
Sleep till eternity.
If you can remember me, I will be with you always. Isabel Allende
Frolic in the land of forever with me. Rae Hachton
Time passes, love remains.
We remember…..(name) …. With open hearts
The kingdom of Heaven is within you.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
Your love will light our way.
We in spirit
Still live, love and commune
With all on Earth
There is rest in Heaven.
Neither above you
Nor beneath you
Always with you
How many hopes are buried here.
Think of me.
There is not in the wide world a valley so sweet
As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet. Thomas Moore
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands. YB Yeats
All day the fronds the windblown tree soar and flap and shudder as though it thinks it can fly,
As though it wanders in the skies, travelling who knows where, wheeling past the stars— Rabindranath Tagore
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sun on ripened grain.
I am the gentle Autumn rain. Mary Elizabeth Frye
Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.
― Omar Khayyám, The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor'd, and sorrows end. Shakespeare
To see clearly is an act of the imagination because we are only presented with partialities. We have to imagine the whole.
And so when I remember you
I think of all things good and true.
Do noble things, not dream them all day long,
And so make life, death and that vast forever one grand sweet song.
Like stars to their appointed height they climb,
…..And move like winds of light on dark and stormy air. Keats
And bursting in its beauty and its might
From trees and beasts and men into the Heaven's light. Keats
The dawn is not distant,
Nor is the night starless;
Love is eternal!
God is still God, and
His faith shall not fail us;
Christ is eternal! Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Nor speak of me with tears, But laugh
And talk of me
As if I were beside you. Isla Richardson
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will. Shakespeare
Make me this present then: your hand in mine,
and we’ll live out our lives in it.
Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never;
Never was time it was not; end and beginning are dreams!
Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit for ever. Edwin Arnold, 'The Song Celestial'.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ. Henry Scott Holland
Ah, the souls of those that die
Are but sunbeams lifted higher. Longfellow
When love, who sent, forgot to save
The young, the beautiful, the brave. Lord Byron
Tho' lost to sight, to memory dear
Thou ever wilt remain.
And the beat goes on
Just like my love everlasting
And the beat goes on
Still moving strong on and on. The Whispers
That twilight of enchanted days -
The imperishable past. Frederick Myers
Or soar aloft to be the spangled skies
And gaze upon her with a thousand eyes. Coleridge
The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins? Edgar Allan Poe
Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Václav Havel
I am yours.
However distant you may be,
There blows no wind but wafts your scent to me,
There sings no bird but calls your name to me.
Each memory that has left its trace with me
Lingers forever as a part of me.
I am yours.
Derek and the Dominos
To the world he/she was just a part,
To me he/she was the world.
May the winds of heaven blow softly and whisper in your ear, how much we love and miss you and wish that you were here.
Those we love and lose
are always connected by heartstrings
into infinity. Terri Guillemets
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages. Shakespeare
Mystery gleaming in the stars, pouring down in the sunshine, speaking in the night, the wonder of the sun and of far space.
It is eternity now. I am in the midst of it. It is about me in the sunshine. I am in it; as the butterfly floats in the light-laden air.
Nothing has to come. Now is eternity; now is the immortal life. Richard Jefferies
God's in His heaven-
All's right with the world! Robert Browning
And time has told me
Not to ask for more
So someday our ocean
Will find its shore
I existed from all eternity and, behold, I am here; and I shall exist till the end of time, for my being has no end. Khalil Gibran
Bright are the stars that shine
Dark is the sky
I know this love of mine
Will never die.
Oh, will wonders ever cease?
Blessed be the mystery of love. Sufjan Stevens
Spirit of my silence I can hear you…. And I long to be near you. Sufjan Stevens ( from the song Death with Dignity)
Somewhere in the desert there’s a forest, and an acre between us. Sufjan Stevens.
When sunset flows into golden glows,
And the breath of the night is new,
Love finds afar eve’s eager star—
That is my thought of you.
Robert Underwood Johnson—Star Song.
And I smiled to think God's greatness flowed around our incompleteness, --
Round our restlessness, His rest.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The unreal has no being, the real never ceases to be.
You grieve for those who should not be grieved for.
The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead.
Never at any time was I not, nor thou, nor these princes of men,
nor shall we ever cease to be here after.
Widsom from the Bhagavad Gita
Would that I were the heaven, that I might be
All full of love-lit eyes to gaze on thee.
O that my spirit were yon heaven of night,
Which gazes on thee with its thousand eyes.
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
Good-night, sweet friend, good-night:
Till life and all take flight,
W E Henley
The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect.
The way you live, the gifts that you give.
In the fullness of time, a garden to nurture and protect
taken from lyrics by RUSH "The Garden"
So long as men can breathe, and eyes can see,
so long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Because I have loved life I shall have no sorrow to die.
I have sent up my gladness on wings
to be lost in the blue of the sky. Amelia Burr
I fall asleep in the full and certain hope that my slumber shall not be broken;
and that, though I be all-forgetting, yet I shall not be all-forgotten,
but continue that life in the thoughts and deeds of those I have loved.
- Samuel Butler
I found myself saying goodbye
it was a signal not of a parting but of a uniting.
Be there at our sleeping and give us we pray
your peace in our hearts Lord at the end of the day.
Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. Rossiter W. Raymond
My day was happy - and perchance
The coming night is full of stars.
Captain Richard Molesworth Dennys
Because of you we will be glad and gay,
Remembering you we will be brave and strong;….
And you will speed us onward with a cheer,
And wave beyond the stars that all is well.
Let your soul stand cool and composed
before a million universes.
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
And we find at the end of a perfect day
The soul of a friend we've made.
For all we know this might only be a dream
We come and go like a ripple on a stream.
Nat King Cole
What I do, and what I dream include thee, as the wine must taste of its own grapes. Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear,
too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice,
but for those who love, time is eternity.
Henry Van Dyke
Thou tun'st this World below, the Spheres above,
Who in the Heavenly Round to their own Music move.
We all shine on...like the moon and the stars and the sun...we all shine on...come on and on and on...
Dare to be different. Represent your maker well and you will forever abide in the beautiful embrace of his loving arms.
Jaachynma N.E. Agu
O may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence.
Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush is afire with God.
And only those who see take off their shoes; the rest sit around and pluck blackberries.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more.
A thousand years you said
As our two hearts melted.
Death has made his darkness
Beautiful with thee.
Tennyson's In Memoriam, LXXIV
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.
And one fine morning in a sunny lane
Some boy and girl will meet and kiss and swear
That nobody can love their way again
While over there
You will have smiled, I shall have tossed your hair.
Charlotte May Mew
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages.
What sound was that?....
It was the breath
we took when we first met.
Listen. It is here.
Sleep, holy spirit, blessed soul,
While the stars burn, the moons increase,
And the great ages onward roll.
Alfred , Lord Tennyson
It was beautiful
As long as it lasted
The journey of my life.
After life's fitful fever
He sleeps well.
I have to believe
That you still exist,
And after the sunset
In the unknown night
Joy cannot cease.
David Geoffrey Collins
Happy Have We Met
Happy Have We Been
Happy Did We Part
Happy Meet Again
From earth's control
Released, sees Heaven's light.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.
Katherina von Schlegel
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray,
Your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.
"Who plucked this flower?"
"I" said the master
And the gardener
Held his peace
For her in vain the envious seasons roll
Who bears eternal summer in her soul
ELLWANGER, ELLA HUTCHISON. “EPITAPHS.” Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, vol. 11, no. 31, 1913, pp. 53–62. JSTOR.
Epitaphs of the Great War http://www.epitaphsofthegreatw...
Fergus created Stoneletters Studio in 2003, after training at the Kindersley Workshop. He is a member of the prestigious Master Carver's Association.