I said I’d talk about some more last lines. That’s Land’s End in Cornwall above, by the way.
The cat is serious
It has its ways
So do I.
It came miaowing to me; under the bed it went
Where it scrabbled and rushed around
I bent down and looked it in the eye
“Hello, puss-cat – what are you up to?”
In reply, the dextrous cat
Threw a rat in my face.
Well, that’s obviously a surprise ending, just as the real event was a surprise to me. Not much more to say except that this is much the same as a surprise twist at the end of a novel or short story.
But what about this?
As I came through the automatic door
And found that it was raining
As I paused to deal with that
This shabby man caught me.
“Do you want to see
The future? It’s amazing, genuinely squire,
Believe me, every customer is
Satisfied. Only five quid,
I’m ruining myself.”
I handed him the money
Went round the side and looked.
And he was right:
All customers were satisfied.
No play of light and dark, no life.
Against the rain I pulled my collar up.
Here, I’d suggest, I’m imagining a bleak vision of the future, of nothingness. The last but one line might seem to be the punchline. But the last one shows me doing what people tend to do, retreating from something unwelcome into daily life and ordinary, comprehensible concerns. At the same time, I’m seeking protection from my clothes against something not stopped by rainproof clothing.
I don’t want to suggest that all good poems end with a final line that’s obviously strong, and there’s another issue about the ending – the conclusion it suggests. Here’s the poem that led to me returning to writing poetry, the first of my new poetic life:
“Said to be haunted”
“Source of strength and madness”
Alone on the night mountain
I wait, curious.
Screeches and groans
Tear the night, only I
Know they’re ravens
Harbour lights, town lights, wandering
Headlights shine and
Are gloved into mist
Pale flame of sunrise
Ghosts? Then within us
But a trickle of
Welsh blood speaking:
Perhaps in the soil
Out of time, sleeping.
I wrote this poem about a night out on a Welsh mountain said to be holy and haunted. A couple of hours later, the poem still running through my mind, I added an extra verse. The original ended at “Ghosts? Then within us.” Why did I change the ending? Because I was uneasy and increasingly felt it was too neat and promoted a firm conclusion where I was really unsure. So the last verse rejects a rational certainty for doubt.