The HyperTexts

"Epitaph"
a poem by Michael R. Burch

Form, Theme, Analysis and Meaning



This two-line epigram has become popular with schoolchildren and has been taught in a number of classes, including Holocaust studies, sometimes alongside the diary of Anne Frank. Over the years this has become my most popular poem, as it has "gone viral" hundreds of times and I can no longer keep track of where it has been published. The last time I tried to count the publications, I came up with 397. But I'm sure I missed some.

Epitaph for a Palestinian Child
―for the children of Gaza and the Nakba
by Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

Form, Theme, Analysis and Meaning: "Epitaph" is a warning, because if we can turn our backs on innocent children, other people can turn their backs on us. The same factors that kill children can kill us too: violence, war, social injustices, hunger, disease, climate change, and just plain simple neglect. When the subject is a Palestinian child, I think there is an additional danger. It's not a danger than many Americans want to accept. The danger is that when powerful nations like the United States and Israel cause the children of a weaker people to suffer and die unjustly, some of the men and women who love those children are going to fight back. And because they don't have the ability to fight a "fair fight" against vastly superior militaries, they will use guerilla tactics. The United States and Israel will flood the world with propaganda about the evils of terrorism, without bothering to mention their own large-scale acts of terrorism against innocent children and their defenseless families. So my epitaph as published above is a very dark warning, because when powerful nations decide that it's okay for children to die so that they can get what they want (Israel wants more Palestinian land and the United States lets Israel run amok), the parents and families of those children will not agree, and some of them will fight back. For every Palestinian child who dies so unjustly, there could be another 9-11 attack. The only path to peace is for Israel and the United States to stop lying about what they are really doing, and end their wild injustices against Palestinians who are already living on the margins of existence. But there seems to be no limits to the lies the United States and Israel are willing to tell, and no limit to the suffering they are willing to inflict on people with no good options.

I'm an American who is sickened by what I see my government doing in the Middle East. I do what I can to let the truth be known.

Publication History: Over the years, "Epitaph" has been published with a number of titles because so many children live imperiled lives in the modern world. The poem was originally titled simply "Epitaph," then "Epitaph for a Child" and "A Child's Epitaph." When I decided to become an editor, publisher and translator of Holocaust poetry, I re-titled the poem "Epitaph for a Child of the Holocaust." When I saw the unfolding crisis in Darfur, I published the poem as "Epitaph for a Child of Darfur" and "Epitaph for a Darfur Child." As I saw the plight of Palestinian children grow worse and worse, I published it as "Epitaph for a Palestinian Child," "Epitaph for a Child of the Nakba," and "Epitaph for a Child of Gaza." When disaster struck Haiti, it became "Epitaph for a Child of Haiti." After I worked with Hiroshima survivor Takashi "Thomas" Tanemori on his autobiography Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness, I published a page of Hiroshima poetry and titled my poem "Epitaph for a Child of Hiroshima." In recent years, as American children have been murdered by serial killers, I have titled the poem "Epitaph for a Sandy Hook Child" and "Epitaph for a Parkland Child" and "Epitaph for a Homeless Child." There has also been an "Epitaph for a Syrian Child," an "Epitaph for a Turkish Child," an "Epitaph for a Sahrawi Child," and an Epitaph for a Child of Peshawar." But in each case the message is the same: we should not be subjecting innocent children to murderous violence, and when natural disasters strike, we should not turn our backs on them.

Bio: Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth, their son Jeremy, and three outrageously spoiled puppies. His poems, epigrams, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories and letters have appeared more than 4,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post, Light Quarterly, The Lyric, Measure, Writer's Digest—The Year's Best Writing, The Best of the Eclectic Muse, Unlikely Stories and hundreds of other literary journals, websites and blogs. Mike Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper and, according to Google, a relevant online publisher of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Darfur, Haiti, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. He has two published books, Violets for Beth (White Violet Press, 2012) and O, Terrible Angel (Ancient Cypress Press, 2013). A third book, Auschwitz Rose, is still in the chute but long delayed. Burch's poetry has been translated into eleven languages and set to music by the composers Mark Buller, Alexander Comitas and Seth M. Smith. One of his poems, "First They Came for the Muslims," has been adopted by Amnesty International for its Words That Burn anthology, a free online resource for students and educators. He has also served as editor of International Poetry and Translations for the literary journal Better Than Starbucks.

For an expanded bio, circum vitae and career timeline of the poet, please click here: Michael R. Burch Expanded Bio.

The HyperTexts