The HyperTexts

Epitaphs
by Michael R. Burch



This is a page of epitaphs and elegies written by Michael R. Burch ...

Epitaph for a Palestinian Child
by Michael R. Burch

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

The poem above has become one of my most popular on the Internet. The last time I checked with Google, the second line had 38,500 results and seems to have been adopted by large numbers of tweeters, bloggers, et al. I am personally horrified by what has happened to Palestinian children in Gaza, the West Bank, and refugee camps around the Middle East. My poem is a call for compassion, understanding and tolerance, and a warning about the kind of world we create for our own children when we allow other people's children to be so mistreated. I agree with Gandhi, who said that if we want to create a better world, we must start with the children.

Elegy for a little girl, lost
by Michael R. Burch

for my mother, Christine Ena Burch

. . . qui laetificat juventutem meam . . .
She was the joy of my youth,
and now she is gone.
. . . requiescat in pace . . .
May she rest in peace.
. . . amen . . .
Amen.

I was touched by this Latin prayer, which I discovered in a novel I read as a teenager, around age 16 or 17, and chose to incorporate into a poem. This was my first translation, although it's more of an interpretation. From what I now understand, “ad deum qui laetificat juventutem meam” means “to the God who gives joy to my youth,” but I am sticking with my original interpretation: a lament for a little girl at her funeral. The phrase can be traced back to Saint Jerome's translation of Psalm 42 in the Vulgate Latin Bible (circa 385 AD). I dedicated the poem to my mother, Christine Ena Burch, after her death, because she was always a little girl at heart, and pure of heart like a little girl.

Athenian Epitaphs
by Michael R. Burch

Passerby,
Tell the Spartans we lie
Lifeless at Thermopylae:
Dead at their word,
Obedient to their command.
Have they heard?
Do they understand?
—Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

They observed our fearful fetters, marched against encroaching darkness.
Now we gratefully commemorate their excellence: Bravely, they died for us.
―Michael R. Burch, after Mnasalcas

Here he lies in state tonight: great is his Monument!
Yet Ares cares not, neither does War relent.
—Michael R. Burch, after Anacreon

Blame not the gale, nor the inhospitable sea-gulf, nor friends’ tardiness,
Mariner! Just man’s foolhardiness.
—Michael R. Burch, after Leonidas of Tarentum

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gulls in their high, lonely circuits may tell.
—Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

Here I lie with sea-enclosed Cyzicus shrouding my bones.
Faretheewell, O my adoptive land that reared and suckled me;
Once again I take rest at your breast.
—Michael R. Burch, after Erycius

Shine, while you live;
blaze beyond grief,
for life is brief
and time is a thief.
—Michael R. Burch, after Seikilos of Euterpes

NOTE: The famous Seikilos Epitaph is the oldest known surviving complete musical composition which includes musical notation. It is believed to date to the first or second century AD. The epitaph appears to be signed “Seikilos of Euterpes” or dedicated “Seikilos to Euterpe.” Euterpe was the Muse of music.

These epitaphs and other epigrams have been ascribed to Plato ...

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
But go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

We who left behind the Aegean’s bellowings
Now sleep peacefully here on the mid-plains of Ecbatan:
Farewell, dear Athens, nigh to Euboea,
Farewell, dear sea!
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

We left the thunderous Aegean
to sleep peacefully here on the plains of Ecbatan.
Farewell, renowned Eretria, our homeland!
Farewell, Athens, Euboea's neighbor!
Farewell, dear Sea!
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

We who navigated the Aegean’s thunderous storm-surge
now sleep peacefully here on the mid-plains of Ecbatan:
Farewell, renowned Eretria, our homeland!
Farewell, Athens, nigh to Euboea!
Farewell, dear Sea!
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

This poet was pleasing to foreigners
and even more delightful to his countrymen:
Pindar, beloved of the melodious Muses.
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Some say the Muses are nine.
Foolish critics, count again!
Sappho of Lesbos makes ten.
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Even as you once shone, the Star of Morning, above our heads,
even so you now shine, the Star of Evening, among the dead.
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Why do you gaze up at the stars?
Oh, my Star, that I were Heaven,
to gaze at you with many eyes!
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Every heart sings an incomplete song,
until another heart sings along.
Those who would love long to join in the chorus.
At a lover’s touch, everyone becomes a poet.
—Michael R. Burch, after Plato

The Apple
ascribed to Plato
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Here’s an apple; if you’re able to love me,
catch it and chuck me your cherry in exchange.
But if you hesitate, as I hope you won’t,
take the apple, examine it carefully,
and consider how briefly its beauty will last.

NOTE: The complete Athenian Epitaphs appears at the bottom of this page.

Here and Hereafter

by Michael R. Burch

Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter ...
wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.

I will dedicate the epigram above to the so-called Religious Right and Moral Majority.

Autumn Conundrum
by Michael R. Burch

It's not that every leaf must finally fall,
it's just that we can never catch them all.

Laughter’s Cry
by Michael R. Burch

Because life is a mystery, we laugh
and do not know the half.

Because death is a mystery, we cry
when one is gone, our numbering thrown awry.

Fahr an' Ice
by Michael R. Burch

From what I know of death, I'll side with those
who'd like to have a say in how it goes:
just make mine cool, cool rocks (twice drowned in likker),
and real fahr off, instead of quicker.

Housman was right ...
by Michael R. Burch

It's true that life’s not much to lose,
so why not hang out on a cloud?
It’s just the bon voyage is hard
and the objections loud.

Long Division
by Michael R. Burch

All things become one
Through death’s long division
And perfect precision.

Styx
by Michael R. Burch

Black waters,
deep and dark and still . . .
all men have passed this way,
or will.

I don't remember exactly when I wrote this poem, perhaps around 1976 at age 18, but I do remember it being part of a longer poem originally titled "Death." The first four lines seemed better than the rest of the poem, so I opted for the better part of valor: discretion.

Completing the Pattern
by Michael R. Burch

Walk with me now, among the transfixed dead
who kept life’s compact
                                     and who thus endure
harsh sentence here—among pink-petaled beds
and manicured green lawns.
                                          The sky’s azure,
pale blue once like their eyes, will gleam blood-red
at last when sunset staggers to the door
of each white mausoleum, to inquire—
What use, O things of erstwhile loveliness?

This dream of nothingness we so fear
is salvation clear.
Michael R. Burch

If there is nothing better "out there" than this planet, death and nothingness seem like salvation.

If one screams below, what the hell is “Above”?
Michael R. Burch

If there is a heaven, how could anyone be happy there knowing other people are suffering in hell? The "hell" of orthodox Christianity is not worthy of any God or Angel. Nor is "hell" worthy of human belief. It would be an admission that God had no business creating anyone, if there is a Creator. I have created a logical proof that there never was a hell, according to the Bible: No Hell in the Bible. How can heaven be heaven if there is no compassion? Will mothers forget their children? Will Jesus, who preached the sermon of the Good Samaritan, fail to be a Good Samaritan himself, and cause or allow the saints of other religions to suffer for all eternity because they guessed wrong about which earthly religion to believe? The two epigrams above, small as they are, question the morality and sanity of orthodox Christianity.

Something
―for the children of the Holocaust and the Nakba

by Michael R. Burch

Something inescapable is lost—
lost like a pale vapor curling up into shafts of moonlight,
vanishing in a gust of wind toward an expanse of stars
immeasurable and void.

Something uncapturable is gone—
gone with the spent leaves and illuminations of autumn,
scattered into a haze with the faint rustle of parched grass
and remembrance.

Something unforgettable is past—
blown from a glimmer into nothingness, or less,
which finality has swept into a corner, where it lies
in dust and cobwebs and silence.

This was the first poem that I wrote that didn't rhyme. I believe I wrote it in 1977, which would have made me around 19 at the time. The poem came to me "from blue nothing" (to borrow a phrase from my friend the Maltese poet Joe Ruggier). Years later, I dedicated the poem to the children of the Holocaust and the Nakba.

Infinity
by Michael R. Burch

Have you tasted the bitterness of tears of despair?
Have you watched the sun sink through such pale, balmless air
that your heart sought its shell like a crab on a beach,
then scuttled inside to be safe, out of reach?

Might I lift you tonight from earth’s wreckage and damage
on these waves gently rising to pay the moon homage?
Or better, perhaps, let me say that I, too,
have dreamed of infinity . . . windswept and blue.

This is one of the first poems that made me feel like a "real" poet. I remember reading the poem and asking myself, "Did I really write that?" Many years later, I'm still glad that I wrote it, and it still makes me feel like a real poet! This is another poem that was longer and got "pared down" to its best lines. I believe I wrote it around 1976, at age 18. It expresses sympathy and understanding for someone contemplating suicide.

Observance
by Michael R. Burch

Here the hills are old and rolling
carefully in their old age;
on the horizon youthful mountains
bathe themselves in windblown fountains . . .

By dying leaves and falling raindrops,
I have traced time's starts and stops,
and I have known the years to pass
almost unnoticed, whispering through treetops . . .

For here the valleys fill with sunlight
to the brim, then empty again,
and it seems that only I notice
how the years flood out, and in . . .

This is the other early poem that made me feel like a real poet. I remember writing it in the break room of the McDonald's where I worked as a high school student. I believe that was in 1975, at age 17. Once again, I eventually pared a longer poem down to its best lines. 

The Leveler
by Michael R. Burch

The nature of Nature
is bitter survival
from Winter’s bleak fury
till Spring’s brief revival.

The weak implore Fate;
bold men ravish, dishevel her . . .
till both are cut down
by mere ticks of the Leveler.

I believe I wrote this poem around age 20, in 1978 or thereabouts. It has since been published in The Lyric, Tucumcari Literary Review, Romantics Quarterly and The Aurorean.

honeybee
by Michael R. Burch

love was a little treble thing—
prone to sing
and sometimes to sting

Less Heroic Couplets: Murder Most Fowl!
by Michael R. Burch

“Murder most foul!”
cried the mouse to the owl.

“Friend, I’m no sinner;
you’re merely my dinner!”
the wise owl replied
as the tasty snack died.

Originally published by Lighten Up Online and in Potcake Chapbook #7

NOTE: In an attempt to demonstrate that not all couplets are heroic, I have created a series of poems called “Less Heroic Couplets.” I believe even poets should abide by truth-in-advertising laws! — Michael R. Burch

Stage Fright
by Michael R. Burch

To be or not to be?
In the end Hamlet
opted for naught.

Death
by Michael R. Burch

Death is the finality
of reality.

Playmates
by Michael R. Burch

WHEN you were my playmate and I was yours,
we spent endless hours with simple toys,
and the sorrows and cares of our indentured days
were uncomprehended . . . far, far away . . .
for the temptations and trials we had yet to face
were lost in the shadows of an unventured maze.

Then simple pleasures were easy to find
and if they cost us a little, we didn't mind;
for even a penny in a pocket back then
was one penny too many, a penny to spend.

Then feelings were feelings and love was just love,
not a strange, complex mystery to be understood;
while "sin" and "damnation" meant little to us,
since forbidden cookies were our only lusts!

Then we never worried about what we had,
and we were both sure—what was good, what was bad.
And we sometimes quarreled, but we didn't hate;
we seldom gave thought to the uncertainties of fate.

Hell, we seldom thought about the next day,
when tomorrow seemed hidden—adventures away.
Though sometimes we dreamed of adventures past,
and wondered, at times, why things couldn't last.

Still, we never worried about getting by,
and we didn't know that we were to die . . .
when we spent endless hours with simple toys,
and I was your playmate, and we were boys.

This is probably the poem that "made" me, because my high school English teacher called it "beautiful" and I took that to mean I was surely the Second Coming of Percy Bysshe Shelley! "Playmates" is the second poem I remember writing; I believe I was around 13 or 14 at the time. It was originally published by The Lyric.

My Epitaph
by Michael R. Burch

Do not weep for me, when I am gone.
I lived, and ate my fill, and gorged on life.
You will not find beneath this glossy stone
the man who sowed and reaped and gathered days
like flowers, well aware they would not keep.
Go lightly then, and leave me to my sleep.

The first line of my elegy was inspired by Christina Rossetti's famous elegy.



The Complete Athenian Epitaphs

The purpose of this page is to explore an ancient form of the epigram: these are epitaphs inscribed on steles (tombstones and other monuments) by the ancient Greeks in remembrance of their dead. I use the term "after" for my translations because they are loose translations and/or interpretations rather than word-for-word translations. Four of these epitaph translations were published by Brief Poems in “Tombstone Tropes” and others have become popular and widely circulated on the Internet. I do ask anyone who shares these translations to cite the original poet and translator, which can be done easily by including the citation line immediately below the poem in question.—MRB

The Most Famous of Ancient Greek Epitaphs

Passerby,
Tell the Spartans we lie
Lifeless at Thermopylae:
Dead at their word,
Obedient to their command.
Have they heard?
Do they understand?
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

The First Complete Musical Composition

Shine, while you live;
blaze beyond grief,
for life is brief
and time is a thief.
Michael R. Burch,, after Seikilos of Euterpes

The famous Seikilos Epitaph is the oldest known surviving complete musical composition which includes musical notation. It is believed to date to the first or second century AD. The epitaph appears to be signed “Seikilos of Euterpes” or dedicated “Seikilos to Euterpe.” Euterpe was the Muse of music.

The Sea Knows I'm Buried

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

There are more Plato epigram translations later on this page.

Stranger, flee!
But may Fortune grant you all the prosperity
she denied me.
Michael R. Burch, after Leonidas of Tarentum

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gulls
in their high, lonely circuits may tell.
Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

Blame not the gale, nor the inhospitable sea-gulf, nor friends’ tardiness,
mariner! Just man’s foolhardiness.
Michael R. Burch, after Leonidas of Tarentum

Everywhere the sea is the sea, the dead are the dead.
What difference to me—where I rest my head?
The sea knows I’m buried.
Michael R. Burch, after Antipater of Sidon

Laments for Fallen Warriors

These men earned a crown of imperishable glory,
nor did the maelstrom of death obscure their story.
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Here he lies in state tonight: Great is his Monument!
Yet Ares cares not, neither does War relent.
Michael R. Burch, after Anacreon

They observed our fearful fetters,
marched to confront the surrounding darkness;
now we extol their excellence.
Bravely, they died for us.
Michael R. Burch, after Mnasalcas

Be ashamed, O mountains and seas,
that these valorous men lack breath.
Assume, like pale chattels,
an ashen silence at death.
Michael R. Burch, after Parmenio

Laments for Fallen Children

Stripped of her stripling, if asked, she’d confess:
“I am now less than nothingness.”
Michael R. Burch, after Diotimus

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
Michael R. Burch, Epitaph for a Palestinian Child

Masters and Slaves

I am thine, O master, loyal even in the grave:
just as you are now death’s slave.
Michael R. Burch, after Dioscorides

The Sea Knows I'm Buried, Part II

I lie by stark Icarian rocks
and only speak when the sea talks.
Please tell my dear father I gave up the ghost
on the Aegean coast.
Michael R. Burch, after Theatetus

Sail on, mariner, sail on,
for while we were perishing,
greater ships sailed on.
Michael R. Burch, after Theodorides

All this vast sea is his Monument.
Where does he lie—whether heaven, or hell?
Perhaps when the gulls repent—
their shriekings may tell.
Michael R. Burch, after Glaucus

His white bones lie bleaching on some inhospitable shore:
a son lost to his father, his tomb empty; the poor-
est beggars have happier mothers!
Michael R. Burch, after Damegtus

Here I lie with sea-enclosed Cyzicus shrouding my bones.
Faretheewell, O my adoptive land that reared and suckled me;
Once again I take rest at your breast.
Michael R. Burch, after Erycius

Laments for Lives Cut Short

A mother only as far as the birth pangs,
my life cut short at the height of life’s play:
only eighteen years old, so brief was my day.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Having never earned a penny
nor seen a bridal gown address the floor,
still I lie here with the love of many,
to be the love of yet one more.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Little I knew—a child of five—
of what it means to be alive
and all life’s little thrills;
but little also—(I was glad not to know)—
of life’s great ills.
Michael R. Burch, after Lucian

Pity this boy who was beautiful, but died.
Pity his monument, overlooking this hillside.
Pity the world that bore him, then foolishly survived.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Insatiable Death! I was only a child!
Why did you snatch me away, in my infancy,
from those destined to love me?
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Tell Nicagoras that Strymonias
at the setting of the Kids
lost his.
Michael R. Burch, after Nicaenetus

Here Saon, son of Dicon, now rests in holy sleep:
say not that the good die young, friend,
lest gods and mortals weep.
Michael R. Burch, after Callimachus

The light of a single morning
exterminated the sacred offspring of Lysidice.
Nor do the angels sing.
Nor do we seek the gods’ advice.
This is the grave of Nicander’s lost children.
We weep at its bitter price.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Pluto, delighting in tears,
why did you bring our son, Ariston,
to the laughterless abyss of death?
Why—why?—did the gods grant him breath,
if only for seven years?
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Heartlessly this grave
holds our nightingale speechless;
now she lies here like a stone,
who voice was so marvelous;
while sunlight illumining dust
proves the gods all reachless,
as our prayers prove them also
unhearing or beseechless.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

I, Homenea, the chattering bright sparrow,
lie here in the hollow of a great affliction,
leaving tears to Atimetus
and all scattered—that great affection.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

We mourn Polyanthus, whose wife
placed him newly-wedded in an unmarked grave,
having received his luckless corpse
back from the green Aegean wave
that deposited his fleshless skeleton
gruesomely in the harbor of Torone.
Michael R. Burch, after Phaedimus

Once sweetest of the workfellows,
our shy teller of tall tales
—fleet Crethis!—who excelled
at every childhood game . . .
now you sleep among long shadows
where everyone’s the same . . .
Michael R. Burch, after Callimachus

Although I had to leave the sweet sun,
only nineteen—Diogenes, hail!—
beneath the earth, let’s have lots more fun:
till human desire seems weak and pale.
Michael R. Burch, after an unknown Greek poet

Laments for Animals

Now his voice is prisoned in the silent pathways of the night:
his owner’s faithful Maltese . . .
but will he still bark again, on sight?
Michael R. Burch, after Tymnes

Poor partridge, poor partridge, lately migrated from the rocks;
our cat bit off your unlucky head; my offended heart still balks!
I put you back together again and buried you, so unsightly!
May the dark earth cover you heavily: heavily, not lightly . . .
so she shan’t get at you again!
Michael R. Burch, after Agathias

Wert thou, O Artemis,
overbusy with thy beast-slaying hounds
when the Beast embraced me?
Michael R. Burch, after Diodorus of Sardis

Dead as you are, though you lie as
still as cold stone, huntress Lycas,
my great Thessalonian hound,
the wild beasts still fear your white bones;
craggy Pelion remembers your valor,
splendid Ossa, the way you would bound
and bay at the moon for its whiteness
as below we heard valleys resound.
And how brightly with joy you would leap and run
the strange lonely peaks of high Cithaeron!
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Laments for Fallen Warriors, Part II

Though they were steadfast among spears, dark Fate destroyed them
as they defended their native land, rich in sheep;
now Ossa’s dust seems all the more woeful, where they now sleep.
Michael R. Burch, after Aeschylus

Aeschylus, graybeard, son of Euphorion,
died far away in wheat-bearing Gela;
still, the groves of Marathon may murmur of his valor
and the black-haired Mede, with his mournful clarion.
Michael R. Burch, after Aeschylus

The Sea Knows I'm Buried, Part III

Not Rocky Trachis,
nor the thirsty herbage of Dryophis,
nor this albescent stone
with its dark blue lettering shielding your white bones,
nor the wild Icarian sea dashing against the steep shingles
of Doliche and Dracanon,
nor the empty earth,
nor anything essential of me since birth,
nor anything now mingles
here with the perplexing absence of you,
with what death forces us to abandon . . .
Michael R. Burch, after Euphorion

We who left the thunderous surge of the Aegean
of old, now lie here on the mid-plain of Ecbatan:
farewell, dear Athens, nigh to Euboea,
farewell, dear sea!
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

My friend found me here,
a shipwrecked corpse on the beach.
He heaped these strange boulders above me.
Oh, how he would wail
that he “loved” me,
with many bright tears for his own calamitous life!
Now he sleeps with my wife
and flits like a gull in a gale
—beyond reach—
while my broken bones bleach.
Michael R. Burch, after Callimachus

Cloud-capped Geraneia, cruel mountain!
If only you had looked no further than Ister and Scythian
Tanais, had not aided the surge of the Scironian
sea’s wild-spurting fountain
filling the dark ravines of snowy Meluriad!
But now he is dead:
a chill corpse in a chillier ocean—moon led—
and only an empty tomb now speaks of the long, windy voyage ahead.
Michael R. Burch, after Simonides

Anacreon Epigrams

Yes, bring me Homer’s lyre, no doubt,
but first yank the bloodstained strings out!
—Anacreon, translation by Michael R. Burch

Here we find Anacreon,
an elderly lover of boys and wine.
His harp still sings in lonely Acheron
as he thinks of the lads he left behind ...
—Anacreon or the Anacreontea, translation by Michael R. Burch

Plato Epigrams

These epitaphs and other epigrams have been ascribed to Plato ...

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
But go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

We left the thunderous Aegean
to sleep peacefully here on the plains of Ecbatan.
Farewell, renowned Eretria, our homeland!
Farewell, Athens, Euboea's neighbor!
Farewell, dear Sea!
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

We who navigated the Aegean’s thunderous storm-surge
now sleep peacefully here on the mid-plains of Ecbatan:
Farewell, renowned Eretria, our homeland!
Farewell, Athens, nigh to Euboea!
Farewell, dear Sea!
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

This poet was pleasing to foreigners
and even more delightful to his countrymen:
Pindar, beloved of the melodious Muses.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Some say the Muses are nine.
Foolish critics, count again!
Sappho of Lesbos makes ten.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Even as you once shone, the Star of Morning, vastly above our heads,
even so you now shine, the Star of Evening, eclipsing the dead.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Why do you gaze up at the stars?
Oh, my Star, that I were Heaven,
to gaze at you with many eyes!
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

Every heart sings an incomplete song,
until another heart sings along.
Those who would love long to join in the chorus.
At a lover’s touch, everyone becomes a poet.
Michael R. Burch, after Plato

The Apple
ascribed to Plato
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Here’s an apple; if you’re able to love me,
catch it and chuck me your cherry in exchange.
But if you hesitate, as I hope you won’t,
take the apple, examine it carefully,
and consider how briefly its beauty will last.

Erinna Epigrams

This portrait is the work of sensitive, artistic hands.
See, noble Prometheus, you have human equals!
For if whoever painted this girl had only added a voice,
she would have been Agatharkhis entirely.
—Erinna, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Erinna is generally considered to be second only to Sappho as an ancient Greek female poet. Little is known about her life; Erinna has been called a contemporary of Sappho and her most gifted student, but she may have lived up to a few hundred years later. This poem, about a portrait of a girl or young woman named Agatharkhis, has been called the earliest Greek ekphrastic epigram (an epigram describing a work of art).

Passing by, passing by my oft-bewailed pillar,
shudder, my new friend to hear my tragic story:
of how my pyre was lit by the same fiery torch
meant to lead the procession to my nuptials in glory!
O Hymenaeus, why did you did change
my bridal song to a dirge? Strange!
—Erinna, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You, my tall Columns, and you, my small Urn,
the receptacle of Hades’ tiny pittance of ash—
remember me to those who pass by
my grave, as they dash.
Tell them my story, as sad as it is:
that this grave sealed a young bride’s womb;
that my name was Baucis and Telos my land;
and that Erinna, my friend, etched this poem on my Tomb.
—Erinna, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Translator’s note: Baucis is also spelled Baukis. Erinna has been attributed to different locations, including Lesbos, Rhodes, Teos, Telos and Tenos. Telos seems the most likely because of her Dorian dialect. Erinna wrote in a mixture of Aeolic and Doric Greek. In 1928, Italian archaeologists excavating at Oxyrhynchus discovered a tattered piece of papyrus which contained 54 lines Erinna’s lost epic, the poem “Distaff.” This work, like the epigram above, was also about her friend Baucis.

Excerpts from “Distaff”
by Erinna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

… the moon rising …
… leaves falling …
… waves lapping a windswept shore …

… and our childish games, Baucis, do you remember? ...

... Leaping from white horses,
running on reckless feet through the great courtyard.
“You’re it!’ I cried, ‘You’re the Tortoise now!”
But when your turn came to pursue your pursuers,
you darted beyond the courtyard,
dashed out deep into the waves,
splashing far beyond us …

… My poor Baucis, these tears I now weep are your warm memorial,
these traces of embers still smoldering in my heart
for our silly amusements, now that you lie ash …

… Do you remember how, as girls,
we played at weddings with our dolls,
pretending to be brides in our innocent beds? ...

... How sometimes I was your mother,
allotting wool to the weaver-women,
calling for you to unreel the thread? ...

… Do you remember our terror of the monster Mormo
with her huge ears, her forever-flapping tongue,
her four slithering feet, her shape-shifting face? ...

... Until you mother called for us to help with the salted meat ...

... But when you mounted your husband’s bed,
dearest Baucis, you forgot your mothers’ warnings!
Aphrodite made your heart forgetful ...

... Desire becomes oblivion ...

... Now I lament your loss, my dearest friend.
I can’t bear to think of that dark crypt.
I can’t bring myself to leave the house.
I refuse to profane your corpse with my tearless eyes.
I refuse to cut my hair, but how can I mourn with my hair unbound?
I blush with shame at the thought of you! …

... But in this dark house, O my dearest Baucis,
My deep grief is ripping me apart.
Wretched Erinna! Only nineteen,
I moan like an ancient crone, eying this strange distaff ...

O Hymen! . . . O Hymenaeus! . . .
Alas, my poor Baucis!

On a Betrothed Girl
by Erinna
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I sing of Baucis the bride.
Observing her tear-stained crypt
say this to Death who dwells underground:
"Thou art envious, O Death!"

Her vivid monument tells passers-by
of the bitter misfortune of Baucis —
how her father-in-law burned the poor girl on a pyre
lit by bright torches meant to light her marriage train home.
While thou, O Hymenaeus, transformed her harmonious bridal song into a chorus of wailing dirges.

Hymen! O Hymenaeus!

Other translations of ancient Greek poetry by Michael R. Burch ...

Ibykos Fragment 286, Circa 564 B.C.
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Come spring, the grand
apple trees stand
watered by a gushing river
where the maidens’ uncut flowers shiver
and the blossoming grape vine swells
in the gathering shadows.

Unfortunately
for me
Eros never rests
but like a Thracian tempest
ablaze with lightning
emanates from Aphrodite;
the results are frightening—
black,
bleak,
astonishing,
violently jolting me from my soles
to my soul.

Originally published by The Chained Muse



Brief Encounters: Prose Epigrams

• Raise your words, not their volume. Rain grows flowers, not thunder.—Rumi, translation by Michael R. Burch
• No wind is favorable to the man who lacks direction.—Seneca the Younger, translation by Michael R. Burch
• Little sparks ignite great flames.—Dante, translation by Michael R. Burch
• You can crop all the flowers but you cannot detain spring.—Pablo Neruda, translation by Michael R. Burch
• The danger is not aiming too high and missing, but aiming too low and hitting the mark.—Michelangelo, translation by Michael R. Burch
• He who follows will never surpass.—Michelangelo, translation by Michael R. Burch
• Nothing enables authority like silence.—Leonardo da Vinci, translation by Michael R. Burch
• My objective is not to side with the majority, but to avoid the ranks of the insane.—Marcus Aurelius, translation by Michael R. Burch
• Time is sufficient for anyone who uses it wisely.—Leonardo da Vinci, translation by Michael R. Burch
• Blinding ignorance misleads us. Myopic mortals, open your eyes!—Leonardo da Vinci, translation by Michael R. Burch
• It is easier to oppose evil from the beginning than at the end.—Leonardo da Vinci, translation by Michael R. Burch
• Fools call wisdom foolishness.—Euripides, translation by Michael R. Burch
• A man may attempt to burnish pure gold, but who can think to improve on his mother?—Mahatma Gandhi, translation by Michael R. Burch
• One true friend is worth ten thousand kin.—Euripides, translation by Michael R. Burch
• Not to speak one’s mind is slavery.—Euripides, translation by Michael R. Burch
• I would rather die standing than kneel, a slave.—Euripides, translation by Michael R. Burch
• Fresh tears are wasted on old griefs.—Euripides, translation by Michael R. Burch 
• Improve yourself by other men's writings, attaining less painfully what they gained through great difficulty.—Socrates, translation by Michael R. Burch
• Hypocrisy may deceive the most perceptive adult, but the dullest child recognizes and is revolted by it, however ingeniously disguised.—Leo Tolstoy, translation by Michael R. Burch
• Just as I select a ship when it's time to travel, or a house when it's time to change residences, even so I will choose when it's time to depart from life.―Seneca, speaking about the right to euthanasia in the first century AD, translation by Michael R. Burch



Translations of Poetic Epigrams

An unbending tree
breaks easily.
—Lao Tzu, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Once fanaticism has gangrened brains
the incurable malady invariably remains.
—Voltaire, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A question that sometimes drives me hazy:
am I or are the others crazy?
—Albert Einstein, loose translation/interpretation Michael R. Burch

Booksellers laud authors for novel editions
as pimps praise their whores for exotic positions.
—Thomas Campion, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

While nothing can save us from death,
still love can redeem each breath.
—Pablo Neruda, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch



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 6,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post, Writer's Digest—The Year's Best Writing, and hundreds of 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, a former editor of International Poetry and Translations for the literary journal Better Than Starbucks, and a translator of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, 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 fourteen languages, taught in high schools and colleges around the globe, and set to music by twelve composers. His poem "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, and has returned a staggering 691,000 Google results.

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

Michael R. Burch related pages: Early Poems, Rejection Slips, Epigrams and Quotes, Epitaphs, Romantic Poems, Sonnets, Parodies, Satires, Free Verse, Free Love Poems by Michael R. Burch

The HyperTexts