Favourite Last Lines

In the autumn issue of Poetry News we asked readers to send in their favourite last lines. Here are some of your responses.

I am seduced by the harmonious melancholy of so many great lines closing meditations on human frailty and transience, from the potentially endless reverberation of Shelley's "The lone and level sands stretch far away" ('Ozymandias'), to Arnold's 'Dover Beach': "Where ignorant armies clash by night". Others capture me by their laconic ambiguity: "It doesn't matter what we dream about", both taunt and consolation snapping 'Lights Out' by Hugo Williams, or by their enduring morality: "We know not what to have, nor how to ask", Quarles's anti-consumerist admonition ending 'On Change of Weathers'. Happily, I can still change my mood when contemplating Julia's sashaying in silks and exclaiming with Herrick "O how that glittering taketh me!".

David Blaber

There are many wonderful last lines within the breathtaking and at times heart-stopping poetry of Mary Oliver, a much loved poet in her home country but, it seems, still not widely known in the UK. Oliver is much anthologised; my introduction being courtesy of Roger Housden's Ten Poems to ... series. Her poems often end unpredictably but perfectly, making me re-read her work time and again.

'When Death Comes' is a wonderfully unique look at that inevitable moment we all face in our lives, with incredible imagery ("when death comes / like an iceberg between the shoulder blades"). The poem carries beautiful lines, overflowing with a humanity that is prevalent in Oliver's work: "…. I think of each life as a flower, as common / as a daisy, and as singular". The last line often repeats in my mind, each time bringing goose bumps and a quickening of the heart. If I have a mantra of how I would like to live, this is it: "I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."

Jackie Aitken

After some thought, two favourite last lines: From 'Lore' by R. S. Thomas: "Live large, man, and dream small." From 'On Roofs of Terry Street' by Douglas Dunn: "His trowel catches the light and becomes precious."

David Wilkinson

One of my favourites is a poem that comes to mind almost immediately: W.H. Auden's 'In Memory of W.B. Yeats'. I like the final two lines, particularly the last. Each time I read them I think about religious intolerance, and how imprisoned one might be living with it. And standing alone, they seem complete.

"In the prison of his days / Teach the free man how to praise."

Delores Gauntlett

I've always been moved by the ending of John Donne's poem 'A fever': "for I had rather owner be / Of thee one hour, than all else ever" - not only it is a witty conclusion to the conceit he has been developing throughout the poem (i.e. analysing his wife's sickness and the effects it causes on himself and the world) , but also a powerful reaffirmation of the deeper meanings of love and desire.


The all-encompassing force of these feelings is also beautifully expressed in the last verses of John Clare's 'Stanzas. With his usual haunting simplicity, he writes that "all else is vanish'd from my view / like voices on the gale".


On a contrasting and definitely more spiritual note, I also love Sir Philip Sidney's renunciation of human love in favour of higher pursuits: "Then farewell world, thy uttermost I see; / eternal love, maintain thy life in me".


Laura C.


Send your own favourites (and the reason you like them) to [email protected]