This gravestone, commemorating John Safford who died in 1782, stands in the old burying ground off the town common in Harvard, Massachusetts. The poetry at the bottom is two verses from Isaac Watts’s metrical version of Psalm 39:3, part three. As rendered by the gravestone carver, it reads as follows:
Crush’d as a moth beneath thy hands
We moulder to the dust;
Our feeble pou’rs can ne’er withstand
And all our beuty’s lost.
This mortal life decays apace
How soon the bubble’s broke
Adam and all his numerous Race
Are vanity and smoke.
Old Isaac Watts has a poor reputation among religious liberals. He’s old-fashioned. He writes those four-square hymns we love to hate. He’s rooted in the Bible and talks about God as male. Bad hymnodist!
Yet here’s an Isaac Watts hymn that would be a very nice addition to today’s liberal religious hymnody:
In vain the wealthy mortals toil,
And heap their shining dust in vain;
Look down and scorn the humble poor,
And boast their lofty hills of gain.
Their golden cordials cannot ease
Their pained hearts or aching heads,
Nor fright nor bribe approaching death
From glitt’ring roofs and downy beds.
Thence they are huddled to the grave,
Where kings and slaves have equal thrones;
Their bones without distinction lie
Amongst the heap of meaner bones.
“The Rich Sinner Dying,” Hymn 1:24 from Hymns and Spiritual Songs by Isaac Watts.