“Famous Last Words” by Robert Phillips

for Dana Gioia

“It has all been very interesting!”
     declared Lady Mary Wortley Montague.
Examining his sickroom, Oscar Wilde railed,
     “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”
Told the angels were waiting for him,
     Ethan Allen quipped, “Let ’em wait.”
“I am so very happy,” Gerard Manley Hopkins cooed.
     Goethe pleaded for “More light, more light.”

Madame de Pompadour cried out to God,
     “Wait a minute!” rouged her cheeks red.
“I suppose I am turning into a god?”
     The dying Emperor Vespasian said.
Henry James, succumbing to a massive stroke,
     “So it has come … The Distinguished Thing.”
Pancho Villa pleaded, “Don’t let it end
     like this. Tell ’em I said something.”

Gertrude to Alice B.: “What is the answer?”
     [Silence] “In that case, what is the question?”
“If this is dying, I don’t think much of it,”
     Muttered Lytton Strachey. When undone,
Julius Caesar managed, “Et tu, Brute?”
     Edmund Kean: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
Chekhov: “It’s been so long since I’ve had champagne.”
     Goethe: “More light, more light,” then departed.


“Famous Last Words” by Robert Phillips, from Circumstances Beyond Our Control: Poems. © The Johns Hopkins University Press.