I realized last week something that I probably always knew – my favorite part of a book (or poem or story or movie) is the ending. In two different courses with two wildly different texts in front of me (a collection of contemporary Chinese short stories and a poem from 1633), I gushed in front of my students, “Aren’t those lines the best? Don’t they just leave you thinking?” My students nodded knowingly (they’ve heard that before…and they will hear it again).Here are some of my favorite “endings”:
From the title story in Yiyun Li’s Gold Boy, Emerald Girl – a collection about loss and complacency and solitude:
They were lonely and sad people, all three of them, and they would not make one another less sad, but they could, with great care, make a world that would accommodate their loneliness.
From Toni Morrison’s Sula – a novel about friendship and generations of women:
“O Lord, Sula,” [Nel] cried, “girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.” It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.
And, the final poems of my two favorite sonnet sequences, John Donne’s Holy Sonnets (1633) – a meditation on faith and mortality – and Mary Wroth’s Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (1621) – a journey through love, betrayal, and acceptance.
Holy Sonnet 19, John Donne
Oh, to vex me, contraries meet in one:
Inconstancy unnaturally hath begot
A constant habit; that when I would not
I change in vows, and in devotion.
As humorous is my contrition
As my profane love, and as soon forgot:
As riddlingly distempered, cold and hot,
As praying, as mute; as infinite, as none.
I durst not view heaven yesterday; and today
In prayers and flattering speeches I court God:
Tomorrow I quake with true fear of his rod.
So my devout fits come and go away
Like a fantastic ague; save that here
Those are my best days, when I shake with feare.
Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, Mary Wroth
My Muse now happy lay thy selfe to rest,
Sleepe in the quiet of a faithfull loue,
Write you no more, but let these Phant’sies mooue
Some other hearts, wake not to new vnrest.
But if you Study be those thoughts adrest
To truth, which shall eternall goodnes prooue;
Enioying of true ioy the most, and best
The endles gaine which neuer will remoue.
Leaue the discourse of Venus, and her sonne
To young beginners, and their braines inspire
With storyes of great Loue, and from that fire,
Get heat to write the fortunes they haue wonne.
And thus leaue off; what’s past shewes you can loue,
Now let your Constancy your Honor proue.