June 11, 2001 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Invictus is the name of the poem Timothy McVeigh provided as his last words. Written by William Ernest Henley more than a 100 years ago the name means "undefeated" in Latin. What poetry would you use for your last words?
posted by fleener (90 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely, the last three lines of my favorite poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
posted by jammer at 9:17 AM on June 11, 2001 [1 favorite]

I dunno...

what rhymes with Nantucket?

Or maybe that William Carlos Williams thing about the wheelbarrow, for brevity's sake.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

If you want to drag it out, you can't go wrong with a good old Epic. Possibly Homer.

Mostly, right before they dropped the tablets, I think I'd look right into the camera and say "Never could stand that dog..."
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:18 AM on June 11, 2001

hmmm. not sure this would be my choice, but no body beats yeats for getting down to business.

under ben bulben
posted by elsar at 9:27 AM on June 11, 2001

first coment:

Nothing proves that the death penalty creates martyrs more than the fact that this poem will now recieve more searches and more reads than ever before.

but here goes: emily dickinson "I felt a funeral in my brain.."
posted by brucec at 9:35 AM on June 11, 2001

It ain't poetry, maybe, but it'll do:

I can see clearly now
The rain is gone

posted by Skot at 9:38 AM on June 11, 2001

Howl. I really don't see how you could go wrong with, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness...."

of course, now that brucec has brought up dickinson, I heard a fly buzz would be pretty right on.
posted by bison at 9:40 AM on June 11, 2001

My first choice would be Shelley's "Ozymandias." Short, sweet, and with the right measure of "dust in the wind" ambiance.

That's if I go out quiet-like. But if I go out fighting, this is what I would want - not sure of the author (I think maybe Blake, but I can't seem to confirm it)....

Signs following signs lead on the Mighty Year;
See! the dull stars roll round and re-appear.
She comes! the Cloud-comelling Pow'r, behold!
With Night Primaeval and with Chaos old.
Lo! The Great Anarch's ancient reign restor'd.
Light dies before her uncreating Word:
As one by one, at dread Medaea's strain,
the sick'ning stars fade off th'aetherial plain;
As Argus' eyes, by Hermes' wand opprest,
Clos'd one by one to everlasting rest:
Art after Art goes out, and all is Night.
See sculking Truth in her olde cavern lye,
secur'd by mountains of heap'd casuistry:
Philosophy, that touch'd the Heavens before,
Shrinks to her hidden cause, and is no more.
See Physic beg the Stagyrite's defence!
See metaphysic call for aid on Sence!
See Mystery to Mathametiks fly!
In vain! They gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Thy hand great Dulness! lets the curtain fall
And universal Darkness covers all."

If anyone knows who wrote that bad boy, please let me know. It gives me the chillies just typing it.
posted by UncleFes at 9:42 AM on June 11, 2001

Death be not proud -- John Donne
posted by briank at 9:42 AM on June 11, 2001

(er, that's my choice, not UncleFes's author credit)
posted by briank at 9:43 AM on June 11, 2001

the cremation of sam mcgee!
posted by kliuless at 9:43 AM on June 11, 2001

I'm not religious, but I would go for High Flight. I remember it from the Challenger incident, and it touched me deeply.
posted by owillis at 9:44 AM on June 11, 2001

Robert Frost always does it for me.

Come In

Acquainted with the Night
posted by fleener at 9:44 AM on June 11, 2001

Anything by Dr. Seuss... or maybe I'd sing a Schoolhouse Rock tune.
posted by spilon at 9:45 AM on June 11, 2001

posted by Dirjy at 9:53 AM on June 11, 2001

"In the Desert"

In the desert

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,

Who, squatting upon the ground,

Held his heart in his hands,

And ate of it.

I said, "Is it good, friend?"

"It is bitter--bitter," he answered;

"But I like it

Because it is bitter,

And because it is my heart."

Stephen Crane
posted by plaino at 9:57 AM on June 11, 2001

The last few lines from Whitman's Song of Myself.
posted by maurice at 10:03 AM on June 11, 2001

Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
posted by moz at 10:14 AM on June 11, 2001

This Is How a Road Gets Made
posted by Dreama at 10:15 AM on June 11, 2001

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

by Gwendolyn Brooks
posted by riley370 at 10:18 AM on June 11, 2001 [1 favorite]

I will not play at tug o' war
I'd rather play at hug o' war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses
And everyone grins
And everyone cuddles
And everyone wins.
-- "Hug of War" by Shel Silverstein, from A Light in the Attic
posted by bradlands at 10:19 AM on June 11, 2001

The power of thought and word to change and shape the world; O'Shaughnessy's take would be my epitaph, and not a bad anthem for MeFi, for that matter.
posted by Perigee at 10:21 AM on June 11, 2001

This is a poem made up entirely of actual quotes from George W. Bush. The quotes have been arranged only for aesthetic purposes, by Washington Post writer Richard Thompson.

by George W. Bush

I think we all agree, the past is over.

This is still a dangerous world.
It's a world of madmen and uncertainty and potential mental losses.
Rarely is the question asked
Is our children learning?
Will the highways of the internet become more few?

How many hands have I shaked?
They misunderestimate me.
I am a pitbull on the pantleg of opportunity.

I know that the human being and the fish can coexist.

Families is where our nation finds hope, where our wings take dream.
Put food on your family!
Knock down the tollbooth!
Vulcanize Society!
Make the pie higher! Make the pie higher!
posted by camworld at 10:24 AM on June 11, 2001

Uncle Fes, I think that's Pope.
posted by Mocata at 10:24 AM on June 11, 2001

> Thy hand great Dulness! lets the curtain fall
> And universal Darkness covers all.

The Dunciad. Alexander Pope
posted by jfuller at 10:38 AM on June 11, 2001

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
posted by Mocata at 10:40 AM on June 11, 2001

Toko (1795)

Jisei to wa
sunawachi mayoi
tada shinan

Death poems
are mere delusion-
death is death.
posted by skyline at 10:41 AM on June 11, 2001

Death be not Proud is a classic. I'd love to use that, but in case I can't...

"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, by Robert Browning, or this line from Big Trouble in Little China:

When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, looks you crooked in the eye and asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Jack?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."
posted by Cavatica at 10:42 AM on June 11, 2001

Or maybe -

For the rooms grow farther, leaving
Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear
Of taken breath, and them crouching below
Extinction's alp, the old fools, never perceiving
How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet:
The peak that stays in view wherever we go
For them is rising ground. Can they never tell
What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night?
Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout
The whole hideous inverted childhood? Well,
We shall find out.
posted by Mocata at 10:42 AM on June 11, 2001

William Ernest Henley wrote:

> I am the master of my fate;
> I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus has never struck me as convincing poetry. It seems more like a combination of wishful thinking and whistling past the graveyard, like somebody trying to convince himself of something he suspects isn't true. Reminds me of diffident, 98-pound gamers picking handles like "Two-Fisted Death"...
posted by jfuller at 10:49 AM on June 11, 2001

I've always liked "An Irish Airman Forsees his Death", by Yeats. It's a sad poem.
posted by Cavatica at 10:52 AM on June 11, 2001

a friend of mine was reading Shakespeare's The Tempest in high school, and read the ending passage to me once. i really haven't forgotten it since, i think this would be my choice:

Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint: now, 'tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon'd the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
posted by pnevares at 10:53 AM on June 11, 2001

My own choice: Gerard Manley Hopkins, To a young child:

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
posted by jfuller at 10:54 AM on June 11, 2001

The Ying Tong Song

Better yet as a hymn.
posted by Grangousier at 10:59 AM on June 11, 2001

Since briank (among others) already mentioned my first pick, here's my second.

Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
posted by OneBallJay at 10:59 AM on June 11, 2001

Song by Christine Rossetti.
posted by sillygit at 11:04 AM on June 11, 2001

moz, i can't read or hear that without saying "stay gold Ponyboy."
posted by jbelshaw at 11:06 AM on June 11, 2001

Ulysses by Tennyson (ca 1842)

This is a long poem that I first read in high school during one of the inevitable attempts to "broaden our minds". It didn't really do anything for me until the last 6 lines:

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I knew then that these were the words I hoped to make a fitting eulogy for myself.
posted by Irontom at 11:11 AM on June 11, 2001

Alexander Pope! Thanks a mil, Mocata and JFuller

As an aside, it's gratifying to see that Mefi's are so literate :) Your average cannonball knows more poesy than most Americans.
posted by UncleFes at 11:16 AM on June 11, 2001

Having seen Yeats' grave a couple of weeks ago, I can confirm the rightness of his voice. (And also the amazing volume of the crows that caw in the churchyard yews.)

And I'd feel uneasy taking another poet's epitaph for my own, but Rilke's grave-poem is everything that "Invictus" isn't:
Rose oh pure contradiction,
of being No-one's sleep
             under so many
posted by holgate at 11:17 AM on June 11, 2001

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

-- Stephen Crane
posted by Shadowkeeper at 11:18 AM on June 11, 2001

And I had it WRONG, to boot:

In vain, in vain--the all-composing hour
Resistless falls: The Muse obeys the Pow'r.
She comes! she comes! the sable throne behold
Of Night primeval, and of Chaos old!
Before her, Fancy's gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying rainbows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea's strain,
The sick'ning stars fade off th' ethereal plain;
As Argus' eyes by Hermes' wand oppress'd,
Clos'd one by one to everlasting rest;
Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
Art after Art goes out, and all is Night.
See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
Mountains of Casuistry heap'd o'er her head!
Philosophy, that lean'd on Heav'n before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of Metaphysic begs defence,
And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense !
See Mystery to Mathematics fly!
In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.
Nor public Flame, nor private , dares to shine;
Nor human Spark is left, nor Glimpse divine !
Lo! thy dread Empire, Chaos! is restor'd;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And universal Darkness buries All.

I stand ashamed (blush-blush-blush). The entire poem (these are the last lines of some 600+) is pretty good, though.
posted by UncleFes at 11:21 AM on June 11, 2001

UncleFes: you didn't get it wrong, so no blushes. "...covers all" is from the ending to the original Dunciad Variorum of 1728; "...buries all" is the ending to the much darker four-book revision of 1742-3.

But remember Pope's self-penned epitaph, "On One Who Would Not Be Buried In Westminster Abbey"?

Heroes and Kings! Your distance keep!
In peace let one poor Poet sleep,
Who never flatter'd Folks like you:
Let Horace blush, and Virgil too.

Not used, alas, nor was his famous couplet on Newton ("Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night; // God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.") who was buried in Westminster with a dull Latin inscription.
posted by holgate at 11:29 AM on June 11, 2001

Good choices, many. (Love the Bush parody.) The Crane one is dear to my heart...I used to use it as my sig file. But this is the one that represents how I've tried to live my life, and covers how I hope to face death.

WHEN midnight comes a host of dogs and men
Go out and track the badger to his den,
And put a sack within the hole and lie
Till the old grunting badger passes by.
He comes and hears - they let the strongest loose.
The old fox hears the noise and drops the goose.
The poacher shoots and hurries from the cry,
And the old hare half wounded buzzes by.
They get a forkéd stick to bear him down
And clap the dogs and take him to the town,
And bait him all the day with many dogs,
And laugh and shout and fright the scampering hogs.
He runs along and bites at all he meets:
They shout and hollo down the noisy streets.
He turns about to face the loud uproar
And drives the rebels to their very door.
The frequent stone is hurled wher'er they go;
When badgers fight, then everyone's a foe.
The dogs are clapped and urged to join the fray;
The badger turns and drives them all away.
Though scarcely half as big, demure and small,
He fights with dogs for hours and beats them all.
The heavy mastiff, savage in the fray,
Lies down and licks his feet and turns away.
The bulldog knows his match and waxes cold
The badger grins and never leaves his hold.
He drives the crowd and follows at their heels
And bites them through - the drunkard swears and reels.
The frighted women take the boys away,
The blackguard laughs and hurries on the fray.
He tries to reach the woods, an awkward race,
But sticks and cudgels quickly stop the chase.
He turns again and drives the noisy crowd
And beats the many dogs in noises loud.
He drives away and beats them every one,
And then they loose them all and set them on.
He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men,
Then starts and grins and drives the crowd again;
Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and cackles, groans and dies.

John Clare, The Badger
posted by Ezrael at 11:46 AM on June 11, 2001

Whoa, that sounds rough, Ezrael.
posted by Cavatica at 11:51 AM on June 11, 2001

"I will arise and go now
To the lake Isle of Inishfree...."

WB Yeats
posted by tomcosgrave at 11:57 AM on June 11, 2001

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

-Frodo, from Return of the King

or maybe some gandolf...

Go in peace! I will not say: 'Do not weep;
for not all tears are evil.'

posted by th3ph17 at 12:03 PM on June 11, 2001

Holgate--nice. Now can you give us "Archaic Torso of Apollo"?
posted by rodii at 12:03 PM on June 11, 2001

jammer, did you know you can get a recording of Eliot reading Prufrock? I got it from Napster--very nicely done.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:36 PM on June 11, 2001

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
and really all of the poem - the hollow men, eliot - particularly
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
posted by andrew cooke at 12:38 PM on June 11, 2001

Sorry - was thinking more of McVeigh than myself there. A bit off-topic.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:41 PM on June 11, 2001

While I am alive, I do not want to think about my tombstone. When I am dead, I will not care.
posted by kindall at 12:50 PM on June 11, 2001

Cavatica - Clare had a rough life. High Beach Asylum, death of friends and family...check out this for a glimpse into his life. He's one of my favorite poets, and a good one to use as an epitaph, I think.

Here's another possibility, one I think could be a good way to leave this world:

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.
Theodore Roethke, In A Dark Time
posted by Ezrael at 1:00 PM on June 11, 2001

Aargh! McVeigh had to pick my favorite English-language poem.

At least he didn't say
Father forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing. That wouldv'e been creepy.
posted by tremendo at 1:00 PM on June 11, 2001

Great stuff, but I think the best plan is to find the longest, most boring thing. Once you've bored everyone to sleep, go on your merry way.

Of course, you could try to appeal to their sense of humor.

But what is with reading poetry anyway? Why not appeal to their sense of irony and sing Staying Alive by the Bee-Gee's. I wouldn't be able to. I'm a tenor like Jim Morrison. "This is the end, my only friend the end..."
posted by john at 1:05 PM on June 11, 2001

hmmm. lets see. on the one hand, there's Yes:

Shine your heart
to the universe
and get the news.

on the other, Alice Cooper:

Dead Babies
have got me
on the run...

either would keep 'em wondering...
posted by quonsar at 1:13 PM on June 11, 2001

Actually I think Jim was a baritone, now that I think of it...
posted by john at 1:27 PM on June 11, 2001

I've been partial to a mid twentieth century Mexican poet by the name of Oscar Valenzuela. Here's a rough translation of what I'd like said at my death.

Chasing the Sun

I awoke to the sight of light
crashing against blue-black skies
To my left I saw her stretching out her hand,
pulling herself over the horizon.
Higher and higher she reached until
she was walking above the clouds.
Mesmerized, I stood and left the warmth of my bed,
Intent on following in her wake.

The fire-wisps of her hair
trailed behind her, marking my path.
I looked up and she blinded me with her essence, stinging tears from my eyes.
Undaunted I followed,
bellowing out
her name.

When night fell she turned
and saw me standing behind her.
She smiled and blew a kiss of warmth
through the air, waving goodbye.
I watched as she slid beneath
the cover of the sea,
leaving me to the stars.
And though I was cold,
I turned and walked home
to await the next day
when I could
chase the sun across the sky again.
posted by inviolable at 1:29 PM on June 11, 2001

Superfluous Advice

Should they whisper false of you.
Never trouble to deny;
Should the words they say be true,
Weep and storm and swear they lie.

-Dorothy Parker
posted by smich at 1:34 PM on June 11, 2001

Perigree: thanks! I've oft-quoted the Willa Wonka quoting of those first lines. Nice to trace them to their source.
posted by bison at 1:39 PM on June 11, 2001

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning

stevie smith, not waving but drowning.
posted by sugarfish at 1:39 PM on June 11, 2001

Ah but "I dont know, I don't care, and it doesn't matter" will be the final human prayer--

-Jack Kerouac
posted by sudama at 1:45 PM on June 11, 2001

23 years in an asylum, yikes. Perhaps there is beauty in madness.
posted by Cavatica at 1:47 PM on June 11, 2001

Randall Jarrett's "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner," please.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 2:00 PM on June 11, 2001

I remember reading that shortly after the film Memphis Belle came out. That was an interesting poem.
posted by Cavatica at 2:39 PM on June 11, 2001

Vini, Vidi, Drinki.

I came, I saw, I drank...
posted by da5id at 2:47 PM on June 11, 2001

Angel, I strove for you once. You never come because my calling
Is always full of departure. You cannot advance against
That kind of light. My call is like an outstretched arm.
And your hand, offered to my grasp
From above, remains before me,
Open, protecting and warning,
Incomprehensible and distant.

—Rilke, the Seventh Elegy
posted by rodii at 3:01 PM on June 11, 2001

Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky.

(just, you know, because everyone else seems to love Rilke too)
posted by annathea at 3:04 PM on June 11, 2001


Still friend of many distances, feel how
your breath increases space even now.
In the timber-frames of shadowy bell towers
let yourself ring. That which saps your powers

grows ever stronger from this sustenance.
Through transformation, cross the borderline.
What's your most sorrowful experience?
If drinking you is bitter, turn to wine.

Be, in this night of extravagances,
magics at the crossroads of your senses,
the sense they oddly all cohere.

And when the world no longer knows
you, to the still earth say: I flow.
To the rushing water speak: I'm here.

—Sonnets to Orpheus, II, 299
posted by rodii at 3:05 PM on June 11, 2001

First stanza of my favorite Emily Dickinson poem:

"Hope" is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all
posted by jameschandler at 3:17 PM on June 11, 2001

so much for geeks not knowing anything else about the world besides tech.
we should work on making a sonnet using comments.
posted by th3ph17 at 3:29 PM on June 11, 2001

The Unknown Citizen
W. H. Auden

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in a hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
posted by corpse at 3:53 PM on June 11, 2001

The meaning of Invictus according to English professor Marion Hoctor, as reported by CNN.
posted by fleener at 4:02 PM on June 11, 2001

My first thought was of The Tempest too, but not the closing lines---rather, Prospero's speech:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors
As I foretold you were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

truth be told I've little use for Shakespeare, but the simultaneous poignancy and grandiosity of the above appeals to my sense of personal melodrama. :D
posted by Sapphireblue at 4:05 PM on June 11, 2001

My poetic last words would be:

What Go Around Come Around
by Cypress Hill

When I come with the static cling it's no thing
Make you sing the blues like B.B. King
I got the roughneck scales to get buck-wild
Like a voodoo child nothin' but style
Take it but you can see the black glock clickin'
Point my gat at the punk ass victims
Step up or you can step back though the doors
You can bring it on if you wanna come and get yours
But you betta look over your shoulder
'Cause a loss of blood gets the body much colder

What go around come around, kid
What go around come around
What go around come around, kid
What go around come around

Jack me and I'll jack you back
Jack me and I'll jack you back
posted by frenetic at 4:21 PM on June 11, 2001

High Country Weather by James K. Baxter

Alone we are born
And die alone:
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
Over snow-mountain shine.

Upon the upland road
Ride easy, stranger:
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger.
posted by sarahw at 4:30 PM on June 11, 2001

I'd definitely go with UncleFes on the Ozymandias front:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"


I'm quite surprised that Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" hasn't come up. Mind you it wouldn't quite be my cup of tea either. Rather, if it was for the purposes of a tombstone, I'd plump for the last verse of "La Belle Dame sans Merci" by one John Keats:

And this is why I sojourn here,
   Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge has wither'd from the lake,
   And no birds sing.

posted by MUD at 4:56 PM on June 11, 2001

You stayed too long in school
I'd rather stay a child
And keep my self-respect
It being an adult
Means being like you

Are you really you you you
you you you you you you
Are you really you?

You're a chained-up dog fenced in a yard
Don't see much, you can't go far
Pace and froth, you're getting sick
Run too fast it'll snap your neck

You say you'll break out
But you never do
You're just another ant in the hill
That's your life sentence.

-- Words by Jello Biafra
posted by Twang at 5:35 PM on June 11, 2001

A poem by someone who was actually going to be executed (something tells me this guy was a better class of executee to be than McVeigh, though let it be known that I'm against the death penalty, even in the 16th century): Elegy for Himself, written by Chidiock Tichborne while waiting in the Tower of London for his execution in 1586 (last verse only):
I sought my death, and found it in my womb;
I looked for life, and saw it was a shade;
I trod the earth, and knew it was my tomb;
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run;
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I think when the time comes everyone would really want to be able to write such grave and ressonating words and not use someone else's, however inspired.
I'll have to check up what this guy did. I'll get back to you.
posted by Zootoon at 5:49 PM on June 11, 2001

Line from an old scat song-"Thank God the bitch is dead!"
posted by bjgeiger at 6:16 PM on June 11, 2001

One line from Dante:

Io non piangeva, si dentro impietrai.
posted by aramaic at 6:36 PM on June 11, 2001

"Time goes you say? Ah, no. Alas time stays and we go"

"See you in hell, fuckers" is my second choice.
posted by jessamyn at 6:40 PM on June 11, 2001

Tichborne! Shit, I should have thought of that! I am so envious.
posted by Ezrael at 7:09 PM on June 11, 2001

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me:
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree.
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet:
And if thou wilt, remember
And if thou wilt, forget.
- - Christina Rossetti "Song"

"Do Not Go Gentle" is the poet's adjuring his father not to accept death, so is not appropriate here.
posted by flowerdale at 8:08 PM on June 11, 2001

Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

–Dylan Thomas, "And Death Shall Have No Dominion"
posted by D at 8:52 PM on June 11, 2001

Oh flowerdale! You took the one I was going to put down. Christina Rossetti was so talented, I couldn't have picked a better poem myself....great choice! :)

Since that one was already used I'll use this one :

Remember by Christina Rossetti -

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

posted by FAB4GIRL at 9:10 PM on June 11, 2001 [1 favorite]

Jim Carroll's "A Fragment" has long summed up my feelings on death and life in general.

"When I see a rabbit
crushed by a moving van
I have dreams of maniac computers
miscalculating serious items
pertinent to our lives."

posted by drezdn at 11:59 PM on June 11, 2001

McVeigh quoting "Invictus" gave me a chill; I quoted Invictus last summer in a very different setting. Read what I wrote about it here.
posted by JDC8 at 12:41 AM on June 12, 2001

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond’s glint on snow.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
When you waken to the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circling flight,
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die.

- author unknown
posted by wdeep at 5:31 AM on June 12, 2001

Life is an ever-rolling wheel
And every day is the right one.
He who recites poems at his death
Adds frost to snow.

-- Mumon Gensen

(From a book called _Japanese Death Poems_, which everyone should get, because it's great.)
posted by mcguirk at 2:35 PM on June 13, 2001

I'll go out screaming my own stuff.

Toyotomi remembers
Spring garden walk
Rain coming fast
posted by clavdivs at 7:45 AM on June 16, 2001

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