James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

November 4

Churchill’s Grave

By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

  • Charles Churchill was an English poet of most erratic habits, who died on Nov. 4, 1764.

  • I STOOD beside the grave of him who blazed

    The comet of a season, and I saw

    The humblest of all sepulchres, and gazed

    With not the less of sorrow and of awe

    On that neglected turf and quiet stone,

    With name no clearer than the names unknown,

    Which lay unread around it; and I ask’d

    The Gardener of that ground, why it might be

    That for this plant strangers his memory task’d

    Through the thick deaths of half a century?

    And thus he answer’d: “Well, I do not know

    Why frequent travellers turn to pilgrims so;

    He died before my day of Sextonship,

    And I had not the digging of this grave.”

    And is this all? I thought,—and do we rip

    The veil of Immortality? and crave

    I know not what of honor and of light

    Through unborn ages, to endure this blight?

    So soon, and so successless? As I said,

    The Architect of all on which we tread,

    For Earth is but a tombstone, did essay

    To extricate remembrance from the clay,

    Whose minglings might confuse a Newton’s thought,

    Were it not that all life must end in one,

    Of which we are but dreamers;—as he caught

    As ’twere the twilight of a former Sun,

    Thus spoke he: “I believe the man of whom

    You wot, who lies in this selected tomb,

    Was a most famous writer in his day,

    And therefore travellers step from out their way

    To pay to him honor,—and myself whate’er

    Your honor pleases.” Then most pleased I shook

    From out my pocket’s avaricious nook

    Some certain coins of silver, which as ’twere

    Perforce I gave this man, though I could spare

    So much but inconveniently:—Ye smile,

    I see ye, ye profane ones! all the while,

    Because my homely phrase the truth would tell.

    You are the fools, not I—for I did dwell

    With a deep thought, and with a soften’d eye,

    On that old Sexton’s natural homily,

    In which there was Obscurity and Fame,—

    The Glory and the Nothing of a Name.