Photo Credit: deshow.net
Written for a good friend of his, “Epitaph on William Muir,” by Robert Burns, is everything an epitaph should be: it conveys love and reverence, and shows hope for Muir, rather than pessimism. It’s brief, but still meaningful:
An honest man here lies at rest
As e’er God with his image blest;
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth,
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so informed;
If there is another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.
Burns reflects on his friend’s life with fondness. He makes it clear that Muir was a good man by stating that he was “blest” (2) with God’s image. The poet makes some plain declarations, like the fact that Muir was “honest” (1), but he also makes some more metaphorical claims. By calling Muir the “friend of man, the friend of truth” (3), he refers to him as a sincere, warm individual.
The writer adds to this notion by referring to Muir as a “guide of youth” (4). Not only was this man good to his peers, but he set an excellent example for children. He made his mark on other generations, not just his own. Burns notes that men like Muir are rare: there are “few” with “hearts like his” (5). And in addition to being virtuous, Muir is intelligent. As the poets put it, there are “Few heads with knowledge so informed” (6).
The fact that William Muir had a combination of all of these wonderful qualities makes it even harder to lose him; but instead of being morose, Burns thinks of it with a glass-half-full mentality: “If there is another world, he lives in bliss; If there is none, he made the best of this” (7-8). His friend is either in a better place now, or he died satisfied with his life, because he lived well. So although Muir is gone, it’s hard for Burns to mourn the loss of his friend. Muir went through life as a good person, so whether there’s anything beyond this life or not, Muir will have been rewarded.
*Robert Burns Photo Credit: medglasgow.com