It was announced in late May that the remains of the great poet Samuel Coleridge were finally rediscovered, having been lost for nearly six decades. Coleridge, one of England’s most beloved poets (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, and Dejection: An Ode) had originally been buried at the chapel of Highgate School but his remains were re-interred in St. Michael’s Church, in 1961. Yet despite his enormous fame and the relative recentness of the move, the location of the remains were forgotten about by church officials, bricked over and lost.
It’s a humbling lesson for anyone who chases fame and renown, one that fittingly calls up three verses from an English peer of Coleridge’s, Thomas Grey, in the poem “Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard.”
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
If Mem’ry o’er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where thro’ the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.
Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flatt’ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death?
All paths to glory lead to the grave and, in this state, all are made equal again. As Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both. They were absorbed alike into the life force of the world, or dissolved alike into atoms.” It doesn’t matter your reputation, how famous you are, how many readers you have, how much money you have — when you pass from this earth you are no longer important and eventually you will be forgotten. So what good is being self-important and greedy while you’re alive? Marcus Aurelius himself was buried not in his own vault, but in the vault of Hadrian, and then when Rome was sacked by the Visigoths, his remains were lost forever.
It’s the cycle of life and Marcus had prepared himself for this. He didn’t chase posthumous fame because it didn’t matter to him. What he cared about–what we need to care about this morning and today–is the good he did while he was alive. He cared about the present moment because it is the only thing that matters.
The same is true for you right now.