Who wrote "The call was short the shock severe"?

A few weeks ago, someone uploaded this memorial bench to our site:

Bench with memorial inscription. The call was short the shock severe, To part with one we loved so dear, A cheery smile a heart of gold, One of the best this world could hold, Tis sad but true and we wonder why, The best are always first to die, See you in a bit Cliffski."

Photo CC BY-SA from Lewis MacKenzie.

It is a perfectly pleasant little memorial poem. I wondered about its origins.

A quick search shows that the opening couplet was used on war graves from 1916. But are its origins any earlier than that?

One of the problems of trying to search old records - especially newspapers - is that text recognition isn't particularly effective.

But the British Newspaper Archive has these examples from 1900:

Paper clippings from Scottish newspapers.

The poem is different - and much less secular.

I wasn't able to find anything earlier than the year 1900.

Websites have variations of the poem, suggesting it might be from earlier.

Dennis Townsend's headstone is cut with a family dedication that in one form or another has been in use from the late Victorian period - The cup was bitter the loss severe to part with one we loved so dear.
The Thurmaston Military Indexes

That search took me back to 1891:
Newspaper clipping from 1891.

By searching variations, it's possible to find this from 1885:

The following is the epitaph : The cup was bitter, the sting severe. To part with one we loved so dear
Scan of a paper from 1885.

The inscription can also be found on the Saunders Mausoleum in St Pancras & Islington Cemetery.

John Daniel Saunders died in the 1870s - but the inscription may be from after the death of Mary Saunders, his wife, in 1888.

There's a similar vintage inscription recorded in "Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art (Volume 29)"

Clipping discussing a woman who died in 1879.

Google books thinks the phrase appears in 1857's Designs for Christian Memorials. But doesn't have a searchable PDF.

Google books screenshot showing no preview available.

There is a searchable 1886 edition - but that doesn't contain the phrase.

The phrase pops up around the world - newspaper archives suggest it was popular in New Zealand. It also appears in the British cemeteries in Quetta, Baluchistan, Pakistan in 1888:

Clipping from a book with the poem in it.

At which point, the trail goes cold. At least for my limited resources. How curious that a snippet of a poem from nearly 150 years ago still resonates today.

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2 thoughts on “Who wrote "The call was short the shock severe"?”

  1. Macmillan's Magazine (1883) volume 47, page 301, has, in an article "Churchyard Poetry", attributed to F. Bayford Harrison:

    "...the following, from the cemetery at Chertsey, Surrey, will serve as an example of the extremely natural and unaffected style of some other churchyard poets. The last line is simple to ruggedness :—

    The cup was bitter the sting severe
    To part from those he loved so dear
    But hoping through Christ to meet them again
    Though suffering much he did not complain. "


    Littell's Living Age (1883) volume 156, pages 632-3, reprints exactly the same text



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