Yesterday morning, I realized a lot of poems I like end with the word “life.” I even have one I wrote years ago that ends, “and hurriedly—so I wouldn’t be caught—I began to make my life.” There is an innate appeal to a poem that ends with “life.”
Mary Oliver has at least two superb poems ending with “life.” “Invitation” ends with Rilke’s words, “You must change your life.” And “The Summer Day,” one of the most sublime poems ever written, which is about the supposed wasting of a day, ends:
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
James Wright’s poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm inPine Island,Minnesota” has followed me through my life, as the ending line will not disengage from my head. The poem is a meditation, of a man watching a butterfly, listening to cowbells, enjoying a hawk flying overhead—a peaceful scene that abruptly stops with the last line, “I have wasted my life,” which seemingly comes out of nowhere.
Another poem that has haunted my life is the appropriately titled “Haunts,” a poem not available online, but I will email it to you if you want. It’s awesome. David Baker’s poem is about a hunter lost in the winter who dies in a brutal snowstorm on the same day that the poem’s speaker is born. The speaker imagines the hunter under a tree:
He will stay there
finally too cold to shiver,
Relaxing, gun on lap,
And look over the beautiful, sweeping
Emptiness the world has become,
For all of my life.
Ending with life is about beginning with it.