On Sepulchres, written in 1806, is also known as Of Tombs, On Tombs, or The Sepulchres. The poem is addressed to Ugo Foscolo’s friend Ippolito Pindemonte, a wealthy, prominent traveler who had translated Homer’s Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.). Pindemonte wrote a poem on tombs before Foscolo, but abandoned it to write an epistle responding to his friend’s superior verse. Pindemonte inspired On Sepulchres by complaining about a Napoleonic government decree regarding interments, which stated that cemeteries should be set some distance away from inhabited areas, that tombstones should follow a uniform design, and that the living should be banned from visiting graves. Like Pindemonte, Foscolo found the decree unreasonable.
Foscolo explored many of the subjects in On Sepulchres in previous, shorter sonnets and odes, forms Foscolo found too limiting. Foscolo wrote that his “hymn” was composed in the style of the Greeks, using the rhetorical device of question and response to give the poem structure. His purpose is political, and he attempts to reach the heart rather than the mind to awaken Italian reverence for its fallen heroes. He treats his subject with a lofty, epic, heroic, and lyrical tone and a civil, moral, and educational spirit.
Throughout the poem, his theme is that the living and the dead are united in immortal love, and that tombs communicate the past to the living. Some critics claim the poem says that death is but another country after life, but Foscolo chooses the word “sepulchre” carefully, as the term “cemetery” had Christian connotations he...
(The entire section is 688 words.)