A Good Epitaph is Just so Hard to Find These Days
Nov. 18, 2004
By Douglas Todd
(Excerpt from a story on Mountain View cemetery, published with permission)
The pyramid-shaped monument to George Shilliam Fox has lost its angel, which was broken off decades ago.
But Glen Hodges still appreciated one feature of the base of the Fox family marker. Barely discernible among the green-black moss that covers it, Hodges read aloud the epitaph of Fox:
“Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes.”
It is the title of a 19th-century hymn.
“You don’t get that kind of thing anymore,” said Hodges, manager of Mountain View Cemetery.
“Now people just write down their family member’s name and date of birth and death on a marker. It’s great to see something more evocative.”
They say gravestones reveal a lot about a person and their time. And this one at Mountain View said a great deal about my maternal grandfather, an English immigrant named George Shilliam Fox, who came by train into Vancouver in 1912.
Although the marker declared when my grandfather was born and died, and when his mother, first wife and one of his sons passed on, the epitaph also revealed he had an ear for poetry and an eye for the natural wonders of Greater Vancouver.
I think the quote reflected how my grandfather, who died in his house only a few blocks from Mountain View cemetery, must have loved the spectacular panorama of “the hills around” — the North Shore mountains, which can still be marvelled at from what was his neighbourhood graveyard.
“Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes.” PSALM 121:
Few psalms are so well-known, mostly because it is has been sung in paraphrase form by many generations. Two different paraphrases have been included many modern hymn books. The Scottish Psalter of 1650 gave a version which is better known in Scotland. John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll and as Marquis of Lorne the Governor General of Canada 1878-83, wrote the Canadian favourite,”Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes.” It is said that his inspiration came from the Rocky Mountains seen from a distance as he trekked toward them in wagon train beyond the railway line. Another anecdote relates the inspiration to the Gatineau Hills seen from Rideau Hall, the governor general’s home in Ottawa. They reminded this homesick Scot of his boyhood haunts among the highlands of western Scotland.
Rev. John Shearman (email@example.com) of the United Church of Canada.
Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes
O whence for me shall my salvation come,
from whence arise?
From God, the Lord, doth come my certain aid,
from God, the Lord, who heaven and earth hath made.
He will not suffer that thy foot be moved:
safe shalt thou be.
No careless slumber shall his eyelids close,
who keepeth thee.
Behold, he sleepeth not, he slumbereth ne’er,
who keepeth Israel in his holy care.
Jehovah is himself thy keeper true,
thy changeless shade;
Jehovah thy defense on thy right hand
himself hath made.
And thee no sun by day shall ever smite;
no moon shall harm thee in the silent night.
From every evil shall he keep thy soul,
from every sin;
Jehovah shall preserve thy going out,
thy coming in.
Above thee watching, he whom we adore
shall keep thee henceforth, yea, forevermore.