cover image Urn Burial

Urn Burial

Sir Thomas Browne, preface by W.G. Sebald, New Directions, $9.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 9780811218924

In the mid 17th century, some 40 to 50 Roman burial urns were uncovered in the fields of Norfolk, the occasion of which moved Dr. Thomas Browne to reflect on the significance of their contents, as well as on the ultimate insignificance of their discovery. This gorgeous new edition reintroduces Browne's seminal meditation on impermanence. Browne explores the quirk of fate that these seemingly delicate urns of ash and bone remained unharmed, despite the work of the plow and the destruction of most everything above ground. He also considers the response to death of various faiths and traditions, those who do and do not cremate their dead. His quiet language is profound and humble, timeless as well as singularly poignant. Sebald's preface, excerpted from The Rings of Saturn, introduces Browne's life and work as a physician, along with Sebald's own account of his search for Browne's skull, rumored to have been kept in a museum hospital. Additionally, Sebald paints the landscape of Browne's Renaissance contemporaries as they too engaged with the remains of the dead, notably Rembrandt's painting of human dissection. The pairing of these two works accentuates the importance of both. (Sept.)