Some people are good at endings. Some people are rubbish. This blog will tell you how to end poems in the right way.
Except of course it won’t. Because though it’s true that lots of poems go on too long, and a few not long enough, no formula or wise advice will help.
I blame Wordsworth. I bet you can remember the last two lines of ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ (also known as ‘Daffodils’)?
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.
That lovely uplift — the neat rhyme that ties up the poem-parcel, after a nicely planned bit of reflection – how we love to end in a way that’s aesthetically and psychologically satisfying! Ah, to end on an ‘up’, on a true insight.
But it’s not Wordsworth’s fault really. Shakespeare’s influence underpins everything. It’s all to do with those Elizabethan sonnets, their neat concluding couplets:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
So long... So long... Oh YES – that repetition is a clincher. Or the big cue — here comes the end — in a well-placed ‘Therefore’:
Therefore I lie with her and she with me
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.
But we of the disillusioned twenty-first century — we of the age of Donald Trump — can’t settle for the ‘right’ ending. We're suspicious of easy answers. We prefer, if anything, to end on a question.
Rhyme still regularly pops up (even in unrhymed poems) in the last two lines, but these days it’s unlikely to sum up a major ‘truth’. More probably it will cock a snook or undermine an assumption.
So what can be said about how to end?
Poem endings can’t be planned in advance. Like the work itself, the good ones surprise you. They take you (and your reader) somewhere you never anticipated.
All the practising poet can work on is the art of recognition: noticing when the words are done with you.
Which may — in art as in life — be sooner than you thought.