Friday, 26 August 2011

Is it raining?

An end weighted last line can have an incredible impact on me personally, which is why I use it so much in my own writing. I enjoy the twist of the unexpected, the sublimely funny, or emotion which cuts like a knife. Done deftly it can not only summarise a piece of prose or poem but add additional impact. For example this excerpt of Ted Hughes’ Last Letter, illustrating the impact of the suicide of his wife Sylvia Plath carries the poem to a crescendo, and finishes it adroitly;

At what position of the hands on my watch-face
Did your last attempt,
Already deeply past
My being able to hear it, shake the pillow
Of that empty bed? A last time
Lightly touch at my books, and my papers?
By the time I got there my phone was asleep.
The pillow innocent. My room slept,
Already filled with the snowlit morning light.
I lit my fire. I had got out my papers.
And I had started to write when the telephone
Jerked awake, in a jabbering alarm,
Remembering everything. It recovered in my hand.
Then a voice like a selected weapon
Or a measured injection,
Coolly delivered its four words
Deep into my ear: ‘Your wife is dead.’

The final line makes it, pulling together the stitched tapestry into a woven whole. For me anyway. Perhaps this is based on my own experiences and my husband’s illnesses but this really has an impact on me emotionally. The first line feeds into the last; the poem begins “What happened that night? Your final night.” However you interpret the poem, and there are indeed many ways to interpret poems, it is something we can all relate to; pain and grief. The final line completes the whole but leaves the question unanswered; grief does indeed leave many questions forever hanging over us.

Alternatively, something a little less morbid would be the children’s poetry of the legendary Roald Dahl. His classic Revolting Rhyme Little Red Riding Hood ends by twisting the whole end of the original fairy story, so the last line would have been far more difficult to top the rest of the ending;

``That's wrong!'' cried Wolf. ``Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I've got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I'm going to eat you anyway.''
The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature's head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.
A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, ``Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.''

Yet he still manages it. He has already given the audience an unexpected ending, challenging the ingrained. But he still manages to place an end line which turns the whole story on its head again. If there were any doubt that Red Riding hood was acting in self defense that’s been cleared up sharpish, and that’s done with the final line. (PETA would paint bomb her arse good and proper)

So an end line is a good thing. I guess that’s what I am saying. Trying the find them? Not so easy. Hummm, dooo deee dooo. Erm. Weather’s nice today innit?


Ashley R Lister said...

As a matter of fact - it's chucking down.

Excellent examples of good last lines. If Shaun wasn't in hiding this week I'd suggest we all form a posse and exact revenge for picking this theme.

Great post,


vicky ellis said...

Brilliant examples Lindsay. What I wouldn't give for Dahl's notebooks. And a writing shed.

Ash - can we find some way to blame Shaun for the fact that I remembered to write mine at 2.30am on Thursday morning while trying to sleep? I'm pretty sure it's somebody (else)'s fault.

Lindsay said...

One day I will have a writing/art shed. I'm not greedy. Just a couple of windows, a woodburner in the corner for cold days, insulation. My garden is big enough. But a room away from sticky hands, cbeebies and earplugs would do to be fair.

Jen said...

You managed to find two terrific examples of last lines although I admit to being slightly perplexed that anyone would store a pistol in their knickers [note to self: read more Roald Dahl]