Let’s go where we’re happy and I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates

Sombre, scary and creepy are the feelings usually associated with visiting graveyards  but for me walking around a cemetery is a truly uplifting experience. Eerie sometimes, yes, but there is always an overwhelming feeling of peacefulness, contemplation and curiosity.

From as far back I can remember, I have enjoyed wandering through graveyards… now I guess I’m starting to sound weird… but please, bear with me.

As a young girl every Sunday I used to attend then later teach at the Sunday School at my local church, St Mary’s in Baldock, Hertfordshire. As I was a curious child, I loved exploring both inside and outside the church, which dated back to the 14th Century and therefore had plenty to occupy my inquisitive mind. I was intrigued about the names written on the gravestones from the centuries that had gone before me. One inscription which always used to stop me in my tracks was this: “In memory of Henry George, son of Henry and Harriet Brown who departed this life Mar 20th 1861 Aged 10 years & 10 months – How soon I was cut down when innocent at play, The wind blew a scaffold down and took my life away.” I remember looking at this before I was ten, then when I was ten and ten months and now, even 30 years on, every time I go back home to visit my mum who still lives in Baldock, I always pass by this and take a few minutes to value my own life.

Later as a young teenager, admittedly with Gothic tendencies, I used to wallow in walking home via the graveyard. Then came my obsession with the alternative group,  The Smiths  –  and when they released their song ‘Cemetery Gates’, where Morrissey and Marr invited their fans to meet them at the cemetery gates: “A dreaded sunny day, so let’s go where we’re happy and I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates“, I knew my love for both the Smiths and for visiting cemeteries was now set in stone.

After my dad unexpectedly died when I was sixteen death became a very big part of my life, whether I wanted it to be there or not. At significant times of the year I would go for poignant walks with my mum and our dog, Baron, to visit dad’s grave, where my mum would place daffodils or his other favourite flowers.

At University me and my best friend and fellow Smiths fan, the biographer Carol Ann Lee, would visit popular Smiths sights in Manchester and on a sunny day, would often find ourselves at Southern Cemetery, which was the inspiration for Morrissey’s lyrics to the song Cemetery Gates.

Southern Cemetery Gates in Manchester
Southern Cemetery Gates in Manchester

When I moved to Poland in the late 1990s one of my regular walks into Katowice town centre was via Cmentarz on ul. Sienkiewicza, where my mood was always lifted by the huge number of flowers and candles which adorned the graves all year round even in the deep snowdrifts of a Polish winter. But nothing prepared me for the evening of the Polish national holiday Dzień Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints’ Day) when my normally peaceful evening walk in the cemetery was met with scores of laden with lanterns and flowers. Each grave had been adorned with large bouquets of flowers and 10 or 20 lanterns all ablaze, and with thousands of graves in the cemetery at dusk it was a truly divine experience. The next day All Souls’ Day (Dzień Zaduszny or Dzień Wszystkich Zmarłych) was the an even more amazing.

One of the grandest cemeteries to visit in the world is La Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Argentina, famous for being the resting place of Eva Peron. When I visited Argentina about 15 years ago, on my very first day in Buenos Aires I made a beeline to this legendary necropolis. From everywhere you stand in the opulent cemetery white stone spiritual beings gaze down at you really feel as though you are among angels. Needless to say I had a wonderful time wondering around with my sketchbook and camera.

La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires
La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Here are some of my favourite photographs from this ethereal experience.

Contrary to the lavishness of Recoleta cemetery is the graveyard of the ruined St Thomas a Becket church in Heptsonstall, a tiny village high up on the moors above Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, England.  The graveyard, full of dark stone graves, is shared by two churches, the ruined church, named after the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered on the order of the King in 1170 not long before building started on this church, and an adjacent church, St Thomas the Apostle, which is in current use. When you are standing high up on the moors above Calderdale Valley in among the ruined shell of the church on a windy day it is easy to imagine how the building was destroyed by a heavy gale in 1847. Heptonstall also boasts the oldest Methodist Church in continuous use.
But this unique setting is not my only reason for visiting this curiously Gothic place, for here you will find the grave of poet and writer, and heroine of mine, Sylvia Plath, whose husband former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes came from nearby village Mytholmroyd. Sylvia Plath committed suicide in 1963, she was just 30 years old. The inscription on her headstone reads “Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted 1932 – 1963”
My husband and I lived in Mytholmroyd for five years, just up the road from where Ted Hughes grew up, and during that time we would often take a walk up to the moors to visit this beautiful place. These photos are from one of those snowy wintery walks.

 

 

Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath 

I have done it again.   
One year in every ten   
I manage it——
A sort of walking miracle, my skin   
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,   
My right foot
A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine   
Jew linen.
Peel off the napkin   
O my enemy.   
Do I terrify?——
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?   
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be   
At home on me
And I a smiling woman.   
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.   
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.   
The peanut-crunching crowd   
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot——
The big strip tease.   
Gentlemen, ladies
These are my hands   
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.   
The first time it happened I was ten.   
It was an accident.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.   
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Dying
Is an art, like everything else.   
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.   
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.   
It’s the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute   
Amused shout:
‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.   
There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge   
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge   
For a word or a touch   
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.   
So, so, Herr Doktor.   
So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,   
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.   
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.
Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——
A cake of soap,   
A wedding ring,   
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer   
Beware
Beware.
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair   
And I eat men like air.

Other interesting cemeteries to around the world

Highgate Cemetery (London, England) – This is one of the most magical places to visit in London, where you’ll find some of the finest funerary architecture in the world. Hidden between masses of trees, shrubs and under creeping ivy you will find the graves of Karl Marx, Michael Faraday, George Eliot, Henry Moore, Douglas Adams, Christina Rossetti and one of my favourites, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddal who the famous PreRaphaelite muse who posed for a number of famous paintings including the haunting Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais.

Cimetière du Père Lachaise, (Paris, France) This vast cemetery with its cobblestones and tree-shaded paths and is a romantics paradise, walking around it you can play a spot the bohemian celebrity, for this is the final resting place of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Édith Piaf, Molière, Frederic Chopin, Modigiliani, Marcel Proust, Honore De Balzac, Théodore Géricault, and the medieval star-crossed lovers Abelard and Heloise, whose bones long after their death were buried together in a grand tomb, where where lovers leave letters. The tomb of Oscar Wilde, designed by sculptor Jacob Epstein, now has a increasing problem with people leaving other romantic gestures and a very strange form of graffiti, a lipstick kiss, which are now becoming a serious problem, because the grease sinks into the stone and when the stone is clean it is starting to wear away.

Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague, Czech Republic

A higgledy-piggledy mass of graves dating back to the 15th century, the old Jewish Cemetery lies in the Jewish Quarter of Prague. However, the numbers of gravestones and the number of people buried here cannot be measured, as the layers upon layers of tombs makes it nearly impossible to know.  Some say there are 12,000 tombstones that are visible however, but there could very well be 100,000 burials in all.

jewish cemetery prague
The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic
Arlington National Cemetery Virginia, USA
This is the most famous cemetery in the United States, and is the final resting place for more than 300,000 veterans of every American conflict, from the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Since its founding in 1866, Arlington National Cemetery has provided a solemn place to reflect upon the sacrifices made by the men and women of the United States Armed Forces in the name of their country.
arlington cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery Virginia USA
Merry Cemetery (Săpânța, Romania)

In a small town in the Maramures region of Romania lies a small cemetery quite unlike any other in the world. In the 1930’s woodcarver Stan Ioan Patras carved a picture for each person that died and mounted it to the grave. The carved crosses are brightly painted predominantly in blue, show either how the person died or the person doing their favourite thing in life, along with a short poem written about the person.

Xoxocotlan Cemetery, Oaxaca, Mexico

As part of the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations families hold night-long vigils at the Xoxocotlan cemetery outside of Oaxaca in celebration of their dead relatives. Bands play music, people eat the favourite food of the deceased, drawings are made using sand and graves are swamped with flowers and photos of the dead.

 

Okunoin cemetery, Mount Koya, Japan
Okunoin cemetery is in Koya-san, an ancient village located in Japan’s mountainous Wakayama Prefecture. It is Japan’s largest cemetery, with over 200,000 tombs spread across 2 kilometres and it looks like has come straight out of a Studio Ghibli movie.
Okunoin Cemetery, Mount Koya, Japan
Okunoin Cemetery on Mount Koya in  Japan
So next time you feel a shiver and say, “someone is walking over my grave’, it not be such a bad thing after all.

The Smiths – Cemetery Gates 

A dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetry gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
A dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetry gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
While Wilde is on mine
So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All those people, all those lives
Where are they now?
With loves, and hates
And passions just like mine
They were born
And then they lived
And then they died
It seems so unfair
I want to cry
You say : “‘Ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn”
And you claim these words as your own
But I’ve read well, and I’ve heard them said
A hundred times (maybe less, maybe more)
If you must write prose/poems
The words you use should be your own
Don’t plagiarise or take “on loan”
‘Cause there’s always someone, somewhere
With a big nose, who knows
And who trips you up and laughs
When you fall
Who’ll trip you up and laugh
When you fall
You say : “‘Ere long done do does did”
Words which could only be your own
And then produce the text
From whence was ripped
(Some dizzy whore, 1804)
A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re happy
And I meet you at the cemetry gates
Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side
A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re wanted
And I meet you at the cemetry gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
But you lose
                                              ‘Cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

Shiver!

 

 

 

58 Comments Add yours

  1. Leya says:

    Wonderful – I also love walking cemeteries. Here I found a couple of new ones I will visit when I am in the vicinity…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Wonderful – a fellow lover of cemeteries. Thanks for stopping by my blog Leya 🙂

      Like

      1. Leya says:

        Thank you for being there😊

        Liked by 1 person

  2. jdhinesblog says:

    Nice, and thanks for introducing me to a new song! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. NC says:

    St Mary’s Youth Fellowship rocked! And that one wooden grave to a boy our age has never left me….nor the love of graveyards – resting places for those who have gone home. great post Ali. TC xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Thanks NC 😉 SMYF Sunday night fun! Weird what stays with you. Miss you. Ali xxx

      Like

  4. Ann Curran says:

    I still yet cannot pass that gravestone without reading its poignancy. So sad. Q in Mexico now. Went to Oaxaca to celebrate Day of the Dead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Hi Anne. It’s strange that this plaque has struck a cord with so many people. I communicated with Q. telling him how jealous I was… I went to Oaxaca about 15 years ago, but never visited for the Day of the Dead. Can’t wait to see his photos!

      Like

  5. What a great post. I love walking around cemeteries, and now I realise there are quite a few more to visit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      It’s such a peaceful and thoughtful way to spend an afternoon 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sapna says:

    I remember when we were kids, we were so scared to visit cemeteries at night. It is a very different and interesting post. A different perspective to know another side of a city.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      I really find them thoughtful places – although I do remember as a teenager when I was with a group of friends there were occasions when we would frighten each other so much with stories of Carrie or Freddy Kruger or Candyman and then I would walk the long way home 🙂

      Like

  7. duemidwest says:

    I’ve always loved seeing the old headstones. They are so beautifully carved and decorated. Not going to lie though, thinking about walking across all those dead bodies gives me the chills. New Orleans has really interesting cemeteries if you want to add that to your future list 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Lots of people have mentioned the New Orleans cemetery, so I will have to add that to my list of places to visit. I just love the calmness of being in a cemetery, and walking around really makes me think about the past and the future. Thanks for stopping by my blog 🙂

      Like

  8. Great post. New Orleans has some great cemeteries as well. I loved all your pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Thank you – I’ve read about the cemetery in New Orleans and will have to visit it on one of my next trips 🙂

      Like

  9. I agree about not understanding the aversion to cemeteries. Admittedly, I don’t typically hang out in them after dark, but I love exploring them when I travel to new places. The only one I’ve visited on your list is Arlington, which was a really solemn experience. I’ve also found beautiful cemeteries in New Orleans, Lisbon, Paris, and other places. They really can be beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      I confess, these trips to graveyards are done by day… not by night. Even though I don’t believe in ghosts, I think I would avoid most cemeteries at night. Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ruth says:

    There is no doubt this is an interesting topic. I think you can learn a lot about a society or area by visiting one of its cemeteries. When I started reading my post, the Recoleta Cemetery came to my mind. So, it was a pleasant surprise to read about your visit! I think that is the prettiest cemetery I have visit. Here in Los Angeles the Hollywood Forever Cemetery hosts shows and movie nights.

    Like

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Thanks for your interesting comment. I have heard about the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and would love to visit it… it sounds a fascinating place. Thanks for stopping by my blog 🙂

      Like

  11. Holly says:

    I’ve seen and learned about the one in Prague. New Orleans is known for theirs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      I have visited New Orleans, many years ago, but never visited the cemetery. I guess I will have to go back and visit again 🙂

      Like

  12. Alice Ford says:

    Growing up in an old colonial town I saw a lot of old graveyards, and they always made me wonder more about the past. I never knew JIm Morrison was buried in Paris and so interesting about Oscar Wilde.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      I guess it is my love for history which makes visiting cemeteries so interesting. Thanks for reading my post and commenting 🙂

      Like

  13. mirela says:

    I live in Romania and I visited the Merry Cemetery (Săpânța, Romania), Maramures. It`s a very interesting cemetery, unique in the world. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Wonderful – it really is an amazing place, both Romania and Merry Cemetery. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      Like

  14. Interesting blog post. What a cool topic to write about. I’d like to visit the cemetery in France. I hear the cemetery’s in New Orleans are grand too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      So many people have mentioned the one in New Orleans… and I visited the city about 20 years ago, but didn’t visit the cemetery… I guess I am just going to have to go back. I love Père Lachaise in Paris so much… a Bohemian’s paradise 🙂

      Like

  15. Michaela says:

    Wow, what an original blog post! I don’t get to visit cemeteris often, so it was an interesting read. I would love to visit the one in Buenos Aires though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires is such a beautiful place 🙂

      Like

  16. Destination>Differentville says:

    Loved this. The Romanian one looks great. I’ve also been to a fair few of these – and I’m from Watford and used to listen the Smiths. Do you think there was something in the Herts water?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      There were only a few of us Smiths fans in north Herts when I was there… Good to know there was another one down in Watford. Where are you now?

      Like

  17. Travelquartz says:

    recently I visited Florence Church San Miniato El Monte and it had the most amazing views and a peaceful cemetery too facing those views. Check my post on Florence to know more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      I’ll be sure to check it out. Thanks for sending me the link to your blog 🙂

      Like

  18. Sheree says:

    What an amazing post! I remember visiting Cimetière du Père Lachaise with my family when I was 15 – the visual of Oscar Wilde’s grave, and the tributes in his memory (the lipstick prints), are burned into my memory. It was only earlier today I was thinking that I should visit more cemeteries; partially because they’re one of the only refuges in the world where no one says anything nasty about anyone else (I actually find really well-kept graves really uplifting, that someone had so much love in their lives that people return to maintain them and show appreciation), and also that it would be nice to pay respects to those abandoned or forgotten graves. Thank you so much for sharing this ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      And thank you for your detailed response. I am so glad you enjoyed reading this Sheree 🙂

      Like

  19. chadmroot says:

    It’s taboo in many countries, but I also enjoy walking around graveyards. I like seeing how different cultures honor the dead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Yes you are right – I am currently living in Kenya, and prior to that was in Tanzania, and I am sure it would be very frowned upon. We must always be culturally sensitive 🙂

      Like

  20. thetripwishlist says:

    Fascinating post, and I loved your back story! Recoleta was amazing, and this post makes me want to visit the places listed, especially the cemeteries in Japan, Romania, and Mexico!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      So many exciting places to see. Thanks for stopping by my blog 🙂

      Like

  21. Love all of this post, I thought we were the only ones into visiting cemeteries. We learn so much about culture, history and life in times past from burial rites and cemeteries. Thanks for the post

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      They are great places to learn about history – glad you enjoyed reading my post 🙂

      Like

  22. Priyanka says:

    I dont know how you do this but I get super creeped out. I avoid cemeteries altogether! But well compiled article. And interesting trivia! 🙂
    ~ http://www.nerdyadventuress.com

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Quite different kind of post! I have never visited any cementeries so far but there is so much learn and understand. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Thanks for visiting and commenting 🙂

      Like

  24. whodoido says:

    I must admit that I find cemeteries a little eerie. I don’t often wander through them and pass by them if I’m on a country walk. However, reading your post I didn’t realise how many beautiful cemeteries there are. During All Saints Day, the cemetery looks so peaceful with it being lit up by the lanterns. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      There are some really beautiful ones to visit around the world. Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Like

  25. kad8585 says:

    What a beautiful post. I love the idea of looking at a cemetary in a different went. I also love the profound message and beauty that cemetaries leave us with.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. moimehr says:

    A beautiful and different post. Here in India, Hindus are cremeted so there is no concept of cemeteries for us. But it’s a hair raising feeling seeing the deads but so alive in their loved ones memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      I’ve been to Varanasi (Banaras) twice and was absolutely fascinated by this holy city

      Like

  27. Shaily says:

    Lovely post! Very unconventional. I do get fascinated but equally scared by the graveyards. You’ve given quite a different perspective of looking at the cemeteries. Very impressive! Thanks for sharing this thoughtful post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Thanks for stopping by my blog Shaily and for your positive comment 🙂

      Like

  28. heraafarooq says:

    Very different and interesting post 🙂 I was scared of cemeteries when I was kid, your post changed my view.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      It’s always good to see things from a different perspective. Thanks for reading an commenting

      Like

  29. Indu says:

    Unusual topic with emotional feel of poetry. I cherished all. Thanks for this sharing this wonderful piece of writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Thank you for your positive feedback 🙂

      Like

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