Graveyard Poem

Sue Wootton Click to

WoottonSue Wootton is the author of three collections of poetry, an illustrated children’s book, and the short story collection, The Happiest Music on Earth (Rosa Mira Books, 2013). Sue has won several awards for her work and held the 2008 Robert Burns Fellowship at Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand. She works as a researcher and editor and lives in Dunedin. Further information is available on her website, .

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In a cemetery in sunlight with names
wept into granite, I lie on a grave

under a defoliating oak, crisp leaves
flittering. Concrete cold creeps

into my spine, aligns me with death. But
the sun’s warm yet. You sit

on the neighbour’s tomb, you wait,
and quietly we listen to the trees’ last-minute discussions.

Then we walk, past all the men in their sunken plots, dear morning
beards, and the yews twisting roots through their bones

all the graves on a slope so steep the lids
might slip off like toboggans should it snow

all the wives adored or endured, corseted or cosseted,
whose costal cartilages smile whitely, deep in the dirt

all the children with their terrifying ages engraved stark against bewilderment –

it’s right to be so afraid
of love.

We walk. We wend past the mossy graves on soft earth
which takes our footprints in and gives them back, a little bounce

and the green words chant on the tombstones
dearly beloved, deeply cherished,

and the angels dip their wingtips to our occasionally touching palms
and the leaves rustle underfoot: risk it, risk it.

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4 Responses to Graveyard Poem

  1. Sam O'Dell says:

    The images and fascinating diction in this poem really impressed me. The very first two-line stanza includes an image I’m quite fond of, “names wept into granite.” The idea that tears could carve names into grave stones is a captivating one for me. In the next stanza Wootton writes of a “defoliating” oak and crisp leaves that “flitter,” both unique diction for discussing common fall imagery. I also love the image of the gravestone lids as toboggans, a moment in the poem that introduces a bit of levity, if only for a moment. The ending, where the author urges us that the danger of loss is worth the risk of loving, rings true for me.

  2. Drew says:

    I agree with Sam. The image of “names wept into granite” is very powerful. I envisioned an old grave perhaps with slightly faded engraving on it. Another thought I had when reading this was perhaps the grave itself was still weeping as a personification of the person who it marks.
    Although the subject of a graveyard is not the most uplifting I also really enjoyed the image of

    “We wend past the mossy graves on soft earth
    which takes our footprints in and gives them back.”

    This paints a vivid image to me as anyone who has stepped on moss can relate to. Also, it almost suggested to me that the graveyard was not ready to accept the narrator yet, as she “bounced” off the moss. I enjoyed this poem a lot.

  3. Laura Berry says:

    I am probably most struck by the opening and closing lines of this poem. The idea of the engraved names being “wept onto granite” is a beautiful image, especially for anyone who has revisited the grave of a loved one and been struck by the sight of their name in that particular place. I also like the rustling leaves saying “risk it, risk it,” which I assume are responding to the phrase, “it’s right to be so afraid/Of love.” I really like what’s going on here-the eery, mystical graveyard is haunting because it reeks of loss, and that loss is made more painful because of love. The presence of death discourages love in preventing pain, but the natural elements in the poem encourage love, like the earth giving back footprints. Unlike the bodies that have become one with the earth, the footprints of the living do not belong to the earth yet, and so whoever they belong to shouldn’t be so concerned with loss.

  4. Tyler Van Riper says:

    I believe this poem speaks to me so completely due to its stark contrasts between the living and the dead, a feeling that immediately hits me every time I enter a graveyard. Although the narrator does “lie on the grave” and feels the “concrete cold” on her spine, the sun is up, her companion sits waiting, and they both belong to the world of the living. Perhaps my favorite line from the poem, “all the wives adored or endured, corseted or cossetted”, also emphasizes this break between being alive and being dead. It does not matter what these women were like in life because they now belong to the graveyard.

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