Honors College | Scholars Week Theses Presentations

Title

“A broken heart sleeps here”: An Analysis of Two Poems and One Tombstone

Presenter Information

Emily FergusonFollow

Academic Level at Time of Presentation

Senior

Major

Creative Writing

Minor

n/a

List all Project Mentors & Advisor(s)

Dr. Staci Stone

Presentation Format

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Description

In the middle of a cornfield in rural Kentucky, a lone white marble headstone stands surrounded by the wreckage of a wrought iron fence. The grave belongs to Mary Owen, a nineteen-year-old wife who died in 1858, but the inscription that fills most of the stone belongs to two British poets. The first half of the epitaph is a stanza from “Medwyn the Mourner,” a poem by Charles Doyne Sillery; the second half is a stanza from “To the Memory of a Young Wife” by H.C. Deakin. When taken out of context and juxtaposed in this manner, the stanzas from each poem are identical in form and nearly identical in style and tone – at first glance, they appear to be a single, cohesive poem. But when viewed as parts of their respective wholes, the two stanzas could hardly be more different. I think that by taking these two distinct stanzas and linking them together like this, Mary Owen’s husband, William, whose name is on her tombstone and who presumably took care of all funerary matters when she died, was seeking to communicate not only his grief over her passing and his devotion to her memory, but some critical piece of information surrounding her relationships in life and the circumstances of her death. This thesis will be part literary analysis, part genealogical goose chase. While I will never be able to know the whole truth about why these two disparate stanzas were inscribed on Mary Owen’s gravestone, I can find out as much as possible about her family, William’s life after her death, his children, and everything there is to know about the two poems and their authors. Much of my research will lead to speculation rather than certainty, but I hope to piece together as many of the puzzling historical facts as possible.

Affiliations

Honors Thesis

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“A broken heart sleeps here”: An Analysis of Two Poems and One Tombstone

In the middle of a cornfield in rural Kentucky, a lone white marble headstone stands surrounded by the wreckage of a wrought iron fence. The grave belongs to Mary Owen, a nineteen-year-old wife who died in 1858, but the inscription that fills most of the stone belongs to two British poets. The first half of the epitaph is a stanza from “Medwyn the Mourner,” a poem by Charles Doyne Sillery; the second half is a stanza from “To the Memory of a Young Wife” by H.C. Deakin. When taken out of context and juxtaposed in this manner, the stanzas from each poem are identical in form and nearly identical in style and tone – at first glance, they appear to be a single, cohesive poem. But when viewed as parts of their respective wholes, the two stanzas could hardly be more different. I think that by taking these two distinct stanzas and linking them together like this, Mary Owen’s husband, William, whose name is on her tombstone and who presumably took care of all funerary matters when she died, was seeking to communicate not only his grief over her passing and his devotion to her memory, but some critical piece of information surrounding her relationships in life and the circumstances of her death. This thesis will be part literary analysis, part genealogical goose chase. While I will never be able to know the whole truth about why these two disparate stanzas were inscribed on Mary Owen’s gravestone, I can find out as much as possible about her family, William’s life after her death, his children, and everything there is to know about the two poems and their authors. Much of my research will lead to speculation rather than certainty, but I hope to piece together as many of the puzzling historical facts as possible.