Poem introduction

I don't know whether you believe in last words or not - I don't. Spike Milligan once said to me, "Do you know the last words of Gladstone?" I said, "No," and he said, "I feel better now". But this is a serious love poem.

Last Words

Splendidly, Shakespeare's heroes,
Shakespeare's heroines, once the spotlight's on,
enact every night, with such grace, their verbose deaths.
Then great plush curtains, then smiling resurrection
to applause - and never their good looks gone.

The last recorded words too
of real kings, real queens, all the famous dead,
are but pithy pretences, quotable fictions
composed by anonymous men decades later,
never with ready notebooks at the bed.

Most do not know who they are
when they die or where they are, country or town,
nor which hand on their brow. Some clapped-out actor may
imagine distant clapping, bow, but no real queen
will sigh, 'Give me my robe, put on my crown.'

Death scenes not life-enhancing,
death scenes not beautiful nor with breeding;
yet bravo Sydney Carton, bravo Duc de Chavost
who, euphoric beside the guillotine, turned down
the corner of the page he was reading.

And how would I wish to go?
Not as in opera - that would offend -
nor like a blue-eyed cowboy shot and short of words,
but finger-tapping still our private morse,'...love you,'
before the last flowers and flies descend.


from New and Collected Poems (Hutchinson, 2003), copyright © Dannie Abse 2003, used by permission of the author

Recordings

Dannie Abse

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1Epithalamion

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2Photograph and White Tulips

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3Mysteries

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4Hunt the thimble

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5Horse

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6Return to Cardiff

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7Cousin Sidney

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8A new diary

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9Not Adlestrop

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10Snake

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11The Relic

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12Pathology of colours

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13Peachstone

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14In the theatre

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15Tuberculosis

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16Pantomime diseases

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17O Taste and See

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18Refugee

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19Meurig Dafydd to his Mistress

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20Lament of Heledd

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21Touch Wood

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22A Letter from Ogmore-by-Sea

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23Last Words

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Books by Dannie Abse