The Churchyard Walks, Part 1 – “Characters”

A series of images taken on ilford HP5+, ISO 400 using a Canon EOS 55e and a 24-105 F4L

The grave of Ann Jobberns
15 Year old Ann Jobberns was clearly loved by her parents.

I shot the image below in a local churchyard some weeks ago and after developing I decided to do a series from local churches. The idea being that I’d use the time not only to shoot images but take the opportunity to spend some quiet time, just being out and about, away from the usual day to day stresses and phone screens to truly focus on something for half an hour or so.

Life and Death. The juxtaposition of the baby and the empty frame, its placement and the wear around the frame were really striking.

I spent many hours reading various inscriptions on countless gravestones. Some were poignant, some were simple, some had the odd phrase which just stood out such as in the image below, but the grave of Ann Jobberns was the only one I found which had such a beautiful, heartfelt piece of poetry that seemed to carry not only a story but real, heartfelt meaning with it.

“A noble and unselfish life” – Aston, Birmingham. This short, simple statement seemed to have real impact and meaning.

The poem on Ann’s grave begins with the first four lines from a poem called “Characters” by Anna Laetitia Aikin, published in 1772. It reads as follows:

OH! born to sooth distress, and lighten care; 
Lively as soft, and innocent as fair;  
Blest with that sweet simplicity of thought 
So rarely found, and never to be taught; 
Of winning speech, endearing, artless, kind, 
The loveliest pattern of a female mind; 
Like some fair spirit from the realms of rest 
With all her native heaven within her breast; 
So pure, so good, she scarce can guess at sin,

But thinks the world without like that within; 
Such melting tenderness, so fond to bless, 
Her charity almost becomes excess. 
Wealth may be courted, wisdom be rever’d, 
And beauty prais’d, and brutal strength be fear’d; 
But goodness only can affection move; 
And love must owe its origin to love.

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OF gentle manners, and of taste refin’d, 
With all the graces of a polish’d mind. 
Clear sense and truth still shone in all she spoke, 

And from her lips no idle sentence broke. 
Each nicer elegance of art she knew; 
Correctly fair, and regularly true. 
Her ready fingers plied with equal skill 
The pencil’s task, the needle, or the quill.  
So pois’d her feelings, so compos’d her soul, 
So subject all to reason’s calm controul, 
One only passion, strong and unconfin’d, 
Disturb’d the balance of her even mind: 
One passion rul’d despotic in her breast, 
In every word, and look, and thought confest:  
But that was love, and love delights to bless 
The generous transports of a fond excess.

The poem in itself is, in my opinion, really quite fascinating and thought provoking. I love the lines “and love must owe its origins to love” and “and from her lips no idle sentence broke.” What is most interesting is the last two lines that were added to the engraving in the picture:

But who surveys the virtues of her mind,
Will there a nobler source of beauty find.

I cannot find a source for this anywhere and so it can only be presumed that this is an original addition by Ann’s parents. As with all poetry, it’s meaning is open to interpretation, my take on this is the sentiment that whilst their daughter is obviously to them a beautiful person, those who take the time to listen to her, to get to know her personally will discover she is even more beautiful in terms of her personality.

I think this makes the whole poem and its given context more heartbreaking. Here lies someone who they want the world to know brightened their lives, was fair, innocent and thoughtful and was taken from them at the age of 15. There is obviously no question that every single person I came across, every inscription I read was left with honest, meaningful sentiment, but this poem, this particular memorial was the single one that told a real story. A story of a life, of love, of loss. It is the definition of beauty in tragedy.

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