Image by James Clarke

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 Reading from his Poems

1Epithalamion

2Photograph and White Tulips

3Mysteries

4Hunt the thimble

5Horse

6Return to Cardiff

7Cousin Sidney

8A new diary

9Not Adlestrop

10Snake

11The Relic

12Pathology of colours

13Peachstone

14In the theatre

15Tuberculosis

16Pantomime diseases

17O Taste and See

18Refugee

19Meurig Dafydd to his Mistress

20Lament of Heledd

21Touch Wood

22A Letter from Ogmore-by-Sea

23Last Words

Books by Dannie Abse