As a writer, I’ve always been fascinated by so-called “famous last words,” but not the pronouncements made heading into battle or climbing the gallows steps. In those situations the speaker has prepared, is aware of what is likely to come, and has given their words some forethought as “famous last words.” Lines spoken at times like these are spoken for posterity, and are likely to contain not a small amount of “spin” for the history books.
No, the final utterances that intrigue me are those made suddenly, spontaneously, where the speaker may not be fully cognizant of her surroundings or the situation. At times these last words are puzzling, but while they are possibly no more than the product of a dying brain, they can be quite beautiful. In other cases, however, I believe we can glimpse the true nature of the speaker’s personality. Was she angry? Was he compassionate? Were the last words of love or of rebuke? Last words—when you don’t know they’re last words—can be the most meaningful, the most significant.
Here are four examples of last quotes; the first two are enigmatic, more evocative than illuminating, while the second two pretty much define the person who spoke them. (more…)