I’ve been reading Douglas Coupland’s most recent novel, The Gum Thief. On page 141, one of the characters photocopies the last two pages of 100 randomly-chosen novels to see what common ground exists in their endings. Her conclusion?
“It’s not in every book, but it’s in most books. It’s this: when a book ends, the characters are often moving either towards or away from a source of light – literally – like carrying a candle into a dark room or running a red light at an intersection or opening curtains or falling into a well or – this list goes on. I circled all the bits about light and there’s no mistaking it.”
Now the character making this observation is a twenty-something woman approaching the end of her “goth phase,” and I don’t know whether Coupland has himself ever looked through 100 novels at random to establish the facts. But I wondered whether there was any common thread at the end of poetry collections, partly because my own pamphlet ends with the phrase, “a spin of bright dust in a thread of light.” So I chose 12 poetry collections from my shelves and here’s what I found at the end of each:
You wore your cummerband with the stars and stripes. I, kilted in lime, held a stethoscope to the head of the parting guest. Together we were a couple forever.
(John Ashbery – Where Shall I Wander)
Your nephew, Charles, applied
the necessary, transfiguring gold,
and at last on darkness the dark eyes
closed, brimming with the memory of colour.
(John Ash – The Parthian Stations)
I dream my unborn daughter:
within her palm
one sand-grain’s infinite
coastline becomes one country, becomes
the whole inhabited land.
(A B Jackson – Fire Stations)
turn-ups, a polka-dot dress, one blustery day;
her arm hooked round his arm
as if that could stop him blowing away.
(Stephen Knight – Flowering Limbs)
where the past turns, its face sparkling like emery,
to open its grace and incredible harm
over my life, and I will never die.
(Denis Johnson – The Incognito Lounge)
- The stars will soon be out.
- I think so: the beam, the blister, and the blaze.
(Edwin Morgan – A Book of Lives)
McAdam wakes in a hospital bed singing
a tirade of love songs
in a language yet to be born
(Andrew Philip – Tonguefire)
This is the right light, this pewter shine on the water,
not the carnage of clouds, not the expected wonder
of self-igniting truth and oracular rains,
but these shallows as gentle as the voice of your daughter,
while the gods fade like thunder in the rattling mountains.
(Derek Walcott – The Bounty)
Falling light as casts
On shining waters,
Under the moon’s stigmata
Six thousand miles away,
I imagine untroubled dust,
A loosening gravity,
Christ weighing by his hands.
(Seamus Heaney – Wintering Out)
What syllable are you seeking,
In the distances of sleep?
(Wallace Stevens – Harmonium)
They stumble all night over bones of the dead,
And feel they know not what but care,
And wish to lead others, when they should be led.
(William Blake – Songs of Experience)
Words dry and riderless,
The indefatigable hoof-taps.
From the bottom of the pool, fixed stars
Govern a life.
(Sylvia Plath – Ariel)
There is plenty of light in these passages, isn’t there? Also, perhaps even more prevalent, a movement into an unknown or unspoken future - whether positive, negative or plainly ironic. That’s in spite of the many different strategies employed. Of course, this might just be a fluke, but I didn’t deliberately choose these books to prove a thesis. It’s just the way it’s worked out.