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