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The meaning and origin of the expression: Here lies one whose name was writ in water

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Here lies one whose name was writ in water

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Meaning

Fame, and indeed life, is fleeting.

Origin

A version of the words originate from Beaumont and Fletcher's play Philaster, 1611:

"All your better deeds Shall be in water writ, but this in Marble."

In the better known form 'writ in water' they appeared in Keat's Poetic Works, 1821.

Keats travelled to Rome and died there, aged just 25, in February, 1821. He told his friend Joseph Severn that he didn't want his name to appear on his tombstone, but merely this line:

"Here lies one whose name was writ in water."

Severn honoured that wish, as the gravestone shows - Keats is commemorated just as 'A young English poet'.

Keats's Grave - New Protestant Cemetery, Rome

Keats' Gravestone

THIS GRAVE CONTAINS
ALL THAT WAS MORTAL OF
A YOUNG ENGLISH POET
WHO
ON HIS DEATH-BED
IN THE BITTERNESS OF HIS HEART
at the malicious power of his enemies
desired these words to be engraved
on his tomstone
"HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAME
WAS WRIT IN WATER"
FEB 24 1821

See also - season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.