10 Classic Writers' Last Words

Sat, 04-04-2015
By: Jennifer Moore

 People are obsessed with last words, possibly because they seem to epitomize a person’s entire life. We often wonder: what will I say in my final moments? All we can do is hope that our last utterances will be inspired and memorable. Mark Twain once wrote that we should not leave our final words to our final moments. Instead, we should prepare a well-thought-out sentiment when we are right of mind. Well, if foreplanning is in order, then who better to get some inspiration from than the Masters of Words themselves?

10 Lord Byron

British poet. Partier. Womanizer. A young Hugh Hefner of the 18th century. George Gordon Byron became famous long before he died, which is a rare conquest for any type of artist. Although born with a clubbed right foot, he was actually quite the celebrity back in the early 1800’s. Byron was best known for “Prometheus Unbound,” “She Walks In Beauty,” and countless other poems of the Romantic age. Unfortunately, he died of infection in 1824 at the ripe age of 36. However, he was not going to let death take his manhood. His final words were: “Come, come, no weakness. Let’s be a man to the last. Shall I sue for mercy? Now I must sleep.” And sleep he did.

9 John Keats

Best known for his mythic poem “Endymion,” Keats is another poet from the Romantic age and also Byron’s nemesis for some unknown, surely dramatic, reason. Sorry Byron, Keats wins the title of Most Poetically Tragic Death. Even more, he had a very tragic life as well. His mother and brother died of tuberculosis years prior to Keats dying of (get this) tuberculosis. Unlike Byron, Keats never got to see his fame come to fruition, which tore him up inside. He died at the premature age of 25 believing that he was a poetic failure, only to become one of the most famous writers in history. Such is life. Fortunately, he had his best friend, Joseph Severn, by his side as he slowly died of consumption while traveling in Rome. In a letter to Charles Brown, Severn encapsulated Keats’s final words forever: “Severn-I--lift me up--I am dying--I shall die easy--don't be frightened--be firm, and thank God it has come!" Who better to die on the iconic Spanish Steps?

8 Emily Dickinson

The most famous loner in history, Emily Dickinson was a living poem complete with a rebellious little couplet. Known for her unconventional poetic forms, Dickinson was also unconventional in life. She resisted marriage and religion during a time when women were expected to do their wifely and Godly duties without argument. Dickinson died unpublished in 1886 with strict instructions for her sister to burn all of her writing when she was gone. Luckily, her sister was also a tad rebellious herself. Instead of torching the collection of over 1,800 poems, she did quite the opposite and sent them in for publication. Another fortunate circumstance: this isolated poet had a friend, Austin Todd, by her bedside as she lay dying. Todd claims that Dickinson’s last words were: "Let us go in; the fog is rising." How poetic.

7 Henry David Thoreau

A man who found Truth (with a capital T) in nature and studying Native American culture, Henry David Thoreau is a very important figure in American history and literature. Best known for his book Walden, which is a transcendental analysis on the meaning of life, it is safe to say that Thoreau is read by pretty much every student in America. Prior to his death, Thoreau was asked if he had made his peace with God. He replied, "I didn't know we had quarreled." Shockingly, Thoreau died of (ready for this?) tuberculosis in 1862. However, before he passed from the material to the spiritual realm, he uttered the names of his two loves: "Moose. Indian." Yeah. I couldn’t make this stuff up. Pretty anticlimactic for a man known for pontificating on the meaning of life.

6 Edgar Allan Poe


Talented, intense, and twisted, Edgar Allan Poe is the master of the suspense genre. Although he is best known for his horrific short stories such as "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado," Poe is actually tradmarked as "The Father of the Detective Story." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of alll things Sherlock Holmes, coined this term in regards to Poe, saying that he was a "model for all time." As so, it seems fitting that Poe's death in 1849 is shrouded in mystery to this day. While traveling through Baltimore, someone (quite possibly Poe himself) drugged him so severly that he was found laying in a gutter, deleriously ill. While suffering in a hospital bed just before he died, Poe yelled out, "Lord, help my poor soul!" However, death did not stop Poe from continuing his writing career. Lizzie Doten, a well-known medium of the time, claimed she had written some poetry that Poe had dictated to her from beyond the grave.

5 Dylan Thomas

Welsh writer and drunkard, Dylan Thomas became a literary icon at the remarkably young age; he was just a teenager when he was first published and soon became a household name in the U.K. He was best known for his countless poems and the novel Under Milk Wood. Charged with energy due to his success, Thomas began traveling the world doing readings of his work, which were known to be fantastically flamboyant as if he was acting instead of simply reading. Late one fateful October night in 1953 after partying in New York City with some friends, Thomas famously remarked "I've had 18 straight whiskies. I think that's the record." Yes, broke the record he did, but unfortunately those were the last words he ever slurred. Thomas died from alcohol poisoning shortly after. In other words, the whiskey won the war.

4 Oscar Wilde

Irish, extravagant, and wild, Oscar Wilde was a big name in Victorian society and remains one of the most popular writers in history. Best known for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde was an intelligent graduate of Oxford. Like Thomas, he traveled around reading his work until 1895 when he was arrested and sentenced to two years for, literally, being gay. Due to the embarrassment, his wife left the country taking their children with her. Wilde was released in 1897 and moved to France under a pseudonym. For the last three years of his life, Wilde was penniless, alone, and obviously depressed. He died of meningitis in 1900 at Hotel d’Alsace in Paris. It is a widely rumored that Wilde’s last words were: "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go." The wallpaper is still there.

3 H.M. Munro (Saki)

A Scottish satirical writer that criticized Edwardian society in the early 1900’s, Hector Hugh Munro published under the pen name Saki to protect his identity. Munro had a tough upbringing with his mother dying in a freak incident involving a runaway cow and his father always away on duty as an inspector-general for the police force. He and his siblings were sent to live with his aunt who believed that the best way to correct a child’s wrongdoings was by corporal punishment. When Munro grew up, he went on to join the police force himself, as well as begin his writing career. Best known for his satirical short stories, such as “The Interlopers,” Munro volunteered for the armed forces during World War I where he unfortunately met his end. Just before a sniper’s bullet ended his life, Munro chastised a fellow soldier by yelling: “Put that bloody cigarette out!” Ironically, there is a deadly superstition between soldiers about lighting up on a battlefield. Perhaps some superstitions are not just silly folklore.

2 Jane Austen

One of the most famous novelists to ever live, Jane Austen was a British writer who lived a comfortable life with her wealthy family in the prestigious town of Bath. She was homeschooled by her father and brothers, which apparently paid off in a huge way. She went on to write well known classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. However, she published anonymously and wasn’t really popular until after she died. She died of (I bet you can guess it!) tuberculosis in 1817 at the age of 41. As she lay in bed in misery, her attendants her if there was anything she wanted. She replied: “Nothing. Just death.” Ask, dear lady, and you shall receive.

1 Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

Ah, Mr. Twain. We meet again. Adventurer, intellectual, and surely a branch on Einstein’s family tree (seriously, look at their pictures side-by-side-- doppelgangers!), Samuel Clemens is the classic American writer. If you do not like Mark Twain, you are not allowed to live in U.S. borders (I’m exaggerating, of course.) He is responsible for the likes of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Pudd’nhead Wilson, and countless short stories and articles. He died in 1910 at the ripe age of 74 after battling many illnesses, including depression. On his nightstand lay Carlyle’s French Revolution and his reading glasses; reading, thinking, and learning to the last. Considering Twain put such an emphasis on planning out last words (which inspired the writing of this article), it may be a little anticlimactic to learn what his final utterances were. In addressing his daughter Clara, who sat by his bedside, Twain whispered: "Good-bye. If we meet . . ." and then he passed away.

In reflection, it seems that a person’s life should not be epitomized by their last words but by the mark made on those left behind. Even Twain may have agreed, in retrospect.


Jennifer Moore is an inspired teacher, aspiring writer, book nerd, wine sommelier, and avid traveler. Read all about her travels at her blog, It's in the Journey: http://www.itsinthejourney.com/directory


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Link 2 http://www.lookandlearn.com/blog/7514/lord-byron-famous-last-words/

Link 3 http://englishhistory.net/keats/death.html

Link 4 https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/

Link 5 http://transcendentalism-legacy.tamu.edu/authors/thoreau/

Link 6 http://www.worlds-best-detective-crime-and-murder-mystery-books.com/1841.html

Link 7 http://www.biography.com/news/edgar-allan-poe-death-facts

Link 8 http://www.biography.com/people/dylan-thomas-9505719#marriage-and-later-years

Link 9 http://www.wilde-oscar.com/

Link 10 http://www.online-literature.com/hh-munro/

Link 11 https://books.google.com/books?id=YIwHBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA1817&lpg=PA1817&dq=jane+austen+last+words&source=bl&ots=_FcXain7Gu&sig=IW6sOiGHYIpj7jn68yiviT9lKPM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=acoMVe_KAYmmNvH2gugF&ved=0CCAQ6AEwATgK#v=onepage&q=jane%20austen%20last%20words&f=false

Link 12 http://www.biography.com/people/mark-twain-9512564#synopsis

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