The thing that is so fascinating about a person’s final words is, of course, that the person rarely knows those utterances will be his or her last.
One of my favorite poems is W.S. Merwin‘s “For the Anniversary of My Death”:
Every year without knowing it I have passed the dayWhen the last fires will wave to meAnd the silence will set outTireless travelerLike the beam of a lightless starThen I will no longerFind myself in life as in a strange garmentSurprised at the earthAnd the love of one womanAnd the shamelessness of menAs today writing after three days of rainHearing the wren sing and the falling ceaseAnd bowing not knowing to what.
Here are ten of those now-famous, or at least, interesting, last words:
“Pardon me, sir. I did not do it on purpose.” - after she accidentally stepped on the foot of her executioner as she went to the guillotine.
“I am about to — or I am going to — die: either expression is correct.”
“Bugger Bognor.”“ - to his physician, who had suggested that he relax at his seaside palace in Bognor Regis.
It’s voting time! In the spirit of the culmination of the presidential election tomorrow, below is a list that highlights historic presidents’ more poetic attributes. Ever wondered whose poetry Thomas Jefferson cozied up with? Or which past president favored the eccentric Welsh poet Dylan Thomas? Read on to find out…
George Washington and Phillis Wheatley
He was the first president of the United State, she was the first African-American woman to publish a collection of poetry. In 1776, she sent Washington a poem that praised the general’s leadership. In reply he told her that, were she ever in town, he would “be happy to see a person so favoured by the Muses.”
Now here, now there, the roving Fancy flies,Till some lov’d object strikes her wand’ring eyes,Whose silken fetters all the senses bind,And soft captivity involves the mind.
I feel like oneWho treads aloneSome banquet-hall deserted,Whose lights are fled,Whose garlands dead,And all but he departed!
Ae night the storm the steeples rocked,
Poor Labour sweet in sleep was locked,
While burns, wi’ snawy wreeths upchoked,
Or thro’ the mining outlet bocked,
Down headlong hurl.
“The paper I copied it on kept wearing out, and I kept recopying it. I don’t know how many times, twenty or thirty, I expect,” Truman reportedly told the journalist Merle Miller, adding that he “had a lot more faith in poets than reporters.”
Love took up the glass of Time, and turn’d it in his glowing hands;Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands.Love took up the harp of Life, and smote on all the chords with might;Smote the chord of Self, that, trembling, pass’d in music out of sight.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)To the land vaguely realizing westward,But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,Such as she was, such as she would become.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray,Do not go gentle into that good night.Rage, rage against the dying of the light.