This section examines the use of tenses to refer to the dead in the abundantly practised genre of the epitaph, mainly in verse. Although most of the epitaphs considered were written to be read on the page rather than on a tombstone, it is argued that they still formed part of the ritualized cycle of event and replay. In other words, the notion of ritual is extended to reading. Tenses in epitaphs communicated a subtly gradated spectrum of degrees of posthumous presence, ranging from boldly asserted presence or absence—at the two extremes—to many in-between states. The ‘feel’ of presence or absence communicated by them provided important nuances, supplements, or correctives to the semantic surfaces of epitaphs. Tense-use in epitaphs often problematized posthumous presence, whether by denying or attenuating it or else by foregrounding the cognitive effort needed to perceive it.
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