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A Founding Member of The Association of Graveyard Rabbits


Let's talk of graves and worms and epitaphs.



And The Answer Is!

Henk van Kampen, the Graveyard Rabbit of Utrecht and Het Gooi posted a very interesting photograph of a gravestone with the following inscription:

(Here rests my own sweet wife, our caring mother and grandmother Grietje de Graaf - Kroeze, born 14 Sept 1894, died 20 June 1977, spouse of R. de Graaf.
As you are now - so once was I
As I am now - so will you be. Psalms 103:8)

Henk asks:

Does anyone know the origin of this epitaph? There are many mentions of it on the web, but none with source. If any reader would care to enlighten me, please leave a comment or contact me.

There are many examples of the old epitaph:

Behold, all you that passeth by,
As you are now so once was I,
As I am now so you will be,
Prepare for death and follow me.

Indeed, this old verse has been used often in all burying-grounds from the time it was rendered, in very old French, on the tomb of Edward, the Black Prince, in 1376 (as it may be seen in Canterbury Cathedral) and as Pettigrew, in his collection of epitaphs, gives it in a dozen places in England.

Edward the Black Prince, 1376.

Canterbury Cathedral (Translation of French epitaph).

Whoso thou be that passeth bye,
Where these corpes interred lie:
Understand what I shall saye,
As at this time speake I maye.
Such as thou art. sometyme was I;
Such as I am, such shalt thou bee.
I little thought on the houre of death,
Soe long as I enjoyed breath;
Great riches here I did possesse,
Whereof I made great noblenesse;
I had gold, silver, wardrobe, and
Greate treasures, horses, houses, lande,
But now a caitiffe, poore am I,
Deep in the ground, lo here I lie!
My beautye greate is all quite gone.
My fleshe is wasted to the bone.
My house is narrow now and thronge;
Nothing but truthe comes from my tongue
And if ye shoulde see mee this daye,
I do not thinke but ye woulde saye,
That I had never been a man ;
So moch altered nowe I am !
For God's sake, praye to the heavenly kinge,
That he my soul to heaven would bringe;
All they that praye and make accorde
For me unto my God and Lorde;
God place them in his paradice,
Wherein noe wretched caitiffe lies.

In America the first references to the epitaph I found were attributed to William Poole sometime between 1630 and 1638. This is, however, over three hundred years too late to have been the first rendering.

From 1630-1638:

It was William Poole of Dorchester who made the epitaph for his own tomb which has come down through generations in this more concise form:

"Behold and see as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I,
As I am now, so you must be.
Prepare to die and follow me."

The original was: —

"Ho Passenger, 'tis worth the Pains to stay
And take a Dead man's Lesson by ye Way;
I was what now thou art, and thou shalt be
What I am now, what odds 'twixt me & thee
Now go thy way; but stay, take one word more,
Thy Staff for aught thou know'st Stands next ye Door,
Death is ye Door, ye Door of Heaven or Hell :
Be warn'd, be arm d, Believe, Repent, Farewell."

Thanks Henk, I love a mystery!


Pettigrew, Thomas Joseph. Chronicles of the Tombs: A Select Collection of Epitaphs, Preceded by an Essay on Epitaphs and Other Monumental Inscriptions, with Incidental Observations on Sepulchral Antiquities. London: G. Bell & sons, 1902.

Bacon, Mary Schell Hoke. Old New England Churches and Their Children. New York:
Doubleday, Page & Company, 1906.


Blogger Henk van Kampen said...

Thanks for the investigation, fM. I suspected that the Dutch text was translated from an English poem, but I'm surprised to see the original is probably 14th century French!

November 6, 2008 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger Midge Frazel said...

Douglas Keister's book, Stories in Stone, lists on page 132, under the heading, Memento Mori, this information, "Memento mori can also be in the form of an epitaph. Some of the most frequent memento mori epitaphs are various versions of this epitaph from a tomstone in the Howff Graveyard in Dundee, Scotalnd: "Remember Man as you Pass by / As you are now so once was I / As I am now so you must be/Remember man that you must die." This epitaph and its variants are the most common one found on Colonial New England gravestones.

January 7, 2009 at 7:38 AM  

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