Swaton: Poetry in a Country Church Yard

In an older church yard, a number of graves will stand bearing lines of poetry. This was something of a Victorian fashion, and much of it is sentimental mush, doggerel expressing romantic nothingness. Some of it has a spiritual, vaguely Christian theme, but is no sure indication of the deceased’s or their families’ salvation; Christianity so permeated our culture back then, that this too may be an expression of good taste rather than having been born again. At Swaton Parish Church in Lincolnshire, a range of such rhymes can be found, some of which I quote. One gravestone bluntly declares:

No room for mirth or trifling here

For worldly hope or worldly fear

If life so soon is gone.


A number urge readers to consider their own demise, a typical theme in a Victorian churchyard:

Friend on this tombstone cast an eye

When go thy way prepare to die

Learn here they doom and know thou must

‘ere long like me return to dust.




We know the Lord hath called her

How could she then delay;

When the time came for departure,

We all must then obey


One supposes death a welcome relief from a life of pain:

With pain and sickness wasted to the Bone

Long time to gracious heaven I made my moan

Till God at length to my complaint gave ear

And sent kind Death to ease my grief and care

Here my poor weathered body must remain

Till God throu’ Christ shall make it bloom again


Still, others offer a hope from which only a living faith in Christ could dare proclaim:

Those who on Jesus now rely

And in his gracious favour die

Shall rise in triumph o’er the grave

And join to sing His power to save.

The most moving, however, and theologically rich, is one from Michael and Bridget Moore, who tragically  buried five of their children, none of whom exceeded their ninth year. On a memorial stone, after listing their children’s names and ages, is written:

Bold infidelity turn pale and die:

Near to this stone five infants’ ashes lie.

Say, are they lost or saved?

If death, by sin, they sinn’d because they’re here,

If heaven’s by works in heaven they can’t appear,

Reason, ah, how deprav’d!

Revere the bible’s sacred page, the knots untyd,

Theyd dy’d for Adam sinn’d, they live for Jesus dy’d.

I had to read it 2-3 times to understand its point, and appreciate its sonnet-like style. The Moores assure us that their little ones are in heaven. They cannot obtain their place there for good works, and yet they were corrupted by sin by virtue of having been born. The Gordian Knot, the great conundrum of salvation, is to be explained by the Bible they tell us: though in Adam they died, in Christ they live!

Would that our graveyard had so compelling a gospel witness.