Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Famous last words

The Irish poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney has passed away. His final words, in the form of an SMS to his wife, were “Noli timere” – “Be not afraid”. This, combined with made me think of other great final words.

Well, there are always Churchill’s preparatory words: "I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” And Winnie's final words were reportedly: “I’m so bored with it all”. 

Napoleon’s last word is supposed to have been “Josephine”, the name of his first wife, preceded by “France, the Army, Head of the Army” (“France, l’armée, tête d’armée, Josephine”; getting his priorities right there, I guess).

Erskine Childers urged his firing squad to: “Take a step forward lads – it’ll be easier that way.” Another Erskine, General William Erskine, jumped to his death from a window, and on his way down queried: “Now why did I do that?”

There are the laconic ones, e g Thomas Carlyle's “So, this is death. Well!”, or Edvard Grieg’s “Well, if it must be so.”

Wilson Mizner’s last words, to a priest by his death bed after he momentarily regained conscience, were arguably: “Why should I talk to you? I’ve just been talking with your boss.” Whilst Heinrich Heine's final sentence was a reassuring one, stating that: “God will forgive me. It is his profession”. Another German, Friedrich Wilhelm I, is supposed to have exclaimed: “It’s not true! I’m going to die in this suit?”

Walter Raleigh urged his executioner to “Strike, man, strike!”, Rabelais stated that “I am off in search of the great perhaps”, and there’s of course Captain Oates' epic “I am just going outside. I may be some time.”

As for my last words, they’ll probably be on the lines of Stalin’s gargling “”.