Reflections in a Brooklyn Graveyard.

April 6, 2010


Recently, I visited Brooklyn's Greenwood Cemetery hoping to pay homage to Lorenzo da Ponte [1749-1838], librettist for Mozart's Don Giovanni, Cosi Fan Tutte, and The Marriage of Figaro. I was sure he was buried there along with Lola Montez, Samuel Morse, Louis Tiffany, and Leonard Bernstein. He was not; he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave at a Catholic cemetery on what is now 11th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A. A local historian discovered in the 1980s that the remains of all those buried in the Catholic cemetery were removed to Calvary Cemetery in the borough of Queens during 1909. In October 1987, almost 150 years after his death, a group of people gathered at Calvary Cemetery, to acknowledge the life of Lorenzo Da Ponte. A four-foot granite monument was placed in Section 4B on a flat and grassy plot to honor the artist who lived in the grand style for some of his life but died poor.

As I regarded the grand classical temples, the statuary, urns and epitaphs walking through Greenwood Cemetery I was inevitably reminded of Gray's Elegy and the words:

Yet even these bones from insult to protect,
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
I do not believe in an afterlife but I still should like to be buried rather than cremated. When my wife died seven years ago, I had to take a very quick decision. I decided she should be buried next to her parents in a country churchyard in SW France. I am glad that I did not have her cremated since visits to her grave have been a great and necessary source of comfort for me, her children, and her five sisters and two brothers. Is it unbearably vain to think that my grave may be of similar comfort to my children and friends? At any rate, I am glad there is now a monument to da Ponte- I can visit it and pay tribute to a man whose genius is still a source of solace and sustenance.