Thursday, June 21, 2012


Disregard of Funeral Instructions

V. Sackville-West, Testament, in Orchard and Vineyard (London: John Lane, 1921), p. 54:
When I am dead, let not my limbs be given
To rot amongst the dead I never knew,
But cast my ashes wide under wide heaven,
Or to my garden let me still be true,

And, like the ashes I was wont to save
Preciously from the hearth beneath my fire,
Lighten the soil with mine. Not, not the grave!
I loved the soil I fought, and this is my desire.
Apparently her wishes for the disposition of her remains, as expressed in this poem, were not respected. According to T.J. Hochstrasser, "West, Victoria Mary [Vita] Sackville- (1892–1962), writer and gardener," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "She was cremated and was buried in the Sackville family vault at Withyham, Sussex."

Lucian, Demonax 66-67 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
A short time before the end he was asked: "What orders have you to give about your burial?" and replied: "Don't borrow trouble! The stench will get me buried!" The man said: " Why, isn't it disgraceful that the body of such a man should be exposed for birds and dogs to devour?" "I see nothing out of the way in it," said he, "if even in death I am going to be of service to living things."

But the Athenians gave him a magnificent public funeral and mourned him long. To honour him, they did obeisance to the stone bench on which he used to rest when he was tired, and they put garlands on it; for they felt that even the stone on which he had been wont to sit was sacred. Everybody attended his burial, especially the philosophers; indeed, it was they who took him on their shoulders and carried him to the tomb.
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Update from Robert J. O'Hara:
Mike, the "Disregard of funeral instructions" brought to mind some of the magnificent opening sentences of Hydriotaphia, by your favorite and mine, Sir Thomas Browne:
"But who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the Oracle of his ashes, or whether they are to be scattered? The Reliques of many lie like the ruines of Pompeys, in all parts of the earth; And when they arrive at your hands, these may seem to have wandered far, who in a direct and Meridian Travell, have but few miles of known Earth between your self and the Pole."

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