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“Weep not, good reader! he is truly blest / Amidst chalcedony and quartz to rest: / Weep not for him! but envied be his doom, / Whose tomb, though small, for all he loved had room: / And, O ye rocks! – schist, gneiss, whate’er ye be, / Ye varied strata! – names too hard for me / –Sing, “Oh, be joyful!” for your direst foe, / By death’s fell hammer, is at length laid low.”
In her poem “Epitaph on Mr. W—, a Celebrated Mineralogist,” Felicia Hemans praises the character of Mr. Wilton, a mineralogist who, according to the footnote, “fell off a rock… during [a] mountain ramble.” Throughout the poem, Hemans tells of Mr. Wilton’s great exploits into mountains, and how he “rent the hills asunder” to study the rocks within them (8).
In the lines that I have chosen to analyze, she urges her readers to “weep not” for the man, claiming instead that we should be envious of “his doom” (27). Hemans’ word choice in this line is particularly interesting; the contrast between her meaning and her diction contrasts sharply, and calls attention to the tension between the reaction to death that many people have, and the reaction she is calling for people to have instead. Hemans earnestly counsels her audience to refrain from mourning Mr. Wilton, declaring his situation worthy of jealousy, but her use of the word “doom,” invokes a certain melancholic attitude that does not seem to fit with her message (27). Because of the depressing connotation of “doom,” Hemans’ readers are left torn between the idea that death is a necessarily bad event, causing the ruin of the individual in question, and the idea that Mr. Wilton’s death specifically is to be envied and indeed coveted as the best way to meet such demise (27).
In the next few lines, Hemans explains two reasons why Mr. Wilton’s death should not be wept over by either humans or rocks. The first reason, that he was buried with “all he loved” in his tomb, is a somewhat expected reason, since it is realistic to assume that most people would find that being enshrined amongst their most prized possessions like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh to be preferable to being buried alone (28). Hemans’ second reason, however, is slightly less expected. She personifies the rocks themselves, and advises them to rejoice over his death and the fact that their “direst foe” is “by death’s fell hammer… laid low” (31-32). Hemans references a hammer blow in speaking of Mr. Wilton’s death, a wonderfully clever way to equate his death to the way he conducted his mineral research. Earlier in the poem, Hemans mentions Mr. Wilton’s beloved hammer that he used to “split huge cliffs,” and generally wreak havoc on the rocks contained within them (14). By referring again to a hammer as she advocates for the rocks he terrorized to celebrate his death, Hemans skillfully suggests that Mr. Wilton’s karma eventually caught up to him, and he died the way he had lived, inserting seriousness as well as humor simultaneously.
In this section of her poem, Hemans adroitly makes use of language to convey multiple layers of meaning within each line. This fascinating interplay of diction and meaning works well to impress upon her readers a sense of gravity in addition to humor.
Word count: 481
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