An Ode to Endings

THERE IS A COMMON SAYING IN WRITING, a piece of conventional wisdom, that says it is best to write your introduction last. Of course, such advice has merit. Without a good hook, no self-respecting reader would choose to even skim what you have to say. Yet, in this benevolent suggestion to cultivate first impressions, the ending is often ignored—relegated to the vast, endless sea of everything else that we would merely find in a piece of writing. As such, it can be said that this system on which we prioritise the devices that we use in our craft is antiquated, if not entirely mistaken. The ending is the strongest tool an artist can employ, and one that no writer can avoid. After all, a piece must come to an end. It is foolish to mistake the ending’s potential, for the ending is the world’s most flexible mallet. It hammers home a point, and it can be any point you wish.

Like many other revered poets of the modern era, Emily Dickinson possesses an innate understanding of the lyrical wax of language—the ways that we can stretch and bend words to convey an idea that those words alone could never say. Yet, in poem #1263—a poem where she details the philosophy behind her method—it is neither the truth nor the rhythmic metaphors that I find effective. Instead, it is the ending, the word she chooses to leave ringing in our ears, that I find to be irresistible. As it reads:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

“Blind” is a powerful word. It is one that presents a stark contrast to the ideas of truth and lightning that are so carefully phrased throughout the poem. Emily Dickinson, having crafted a poem that tells the truth, cannot leave it without creating an apotheosis of itself. She settles on a phrase that ends with significance, absolution, and, in a certain way, shock. It dazzles gradually, as oxymoronic as that may be. Emily Dickinson shows us that poetry is the finest form to explore the potential of the ending. Its few lines leave the reader with a revelation just as they begin to fall, mesmerised by the potential of words. Ironically, Emily Dickinson was largely unknown during her lifetime. It was only after her death—the bluntest ending of all—that her prowess as an American poet was discovered and shared with the world.

     And so the ending is synonymous with another word—that of legacy. Poetry is not the only form obsessed with the art of endings. Novelists and essayists alike are similarly entranced by the tool’s seemingly limitless potential. The ending provides a designated exit, through which every true reader must pass. In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, his choice of conclusion ties up the superficial threads of the plot, leaving the mess of thematic barbarity for us to internalise and ultimately reflect on in
our own lives. It is a way of philosophising that turns the inner philosopher toward philosophy. As such, the ending is the mould that every effective writer must learn to fashion. Everything said before its point is molten, waiting to solidify into something beautiful at the conclusion to which they allude. A conclusion that packs the baggage for the reader to carry away. Just like how eminent quotes and famous last words leave legacies for people, endings leave legacies for books—for films and shows, tales and odes.

The legacies made by endings are those that stay with us, and as a result, the legacy of the ending is similarly significant. I doubt that the ending will go away anytime soon—to do so would be a paradox. If it somehow does, it will end with the infused power of every gift it has ever given. After all, the ending is the part of the work that holds the most power—the power to leave with the reader something more than just words. In a way, the ending of a written work is akin to the final cadence of an orchestra. It is beautiful, yes, but the strength comes not from what is said but from where nothing is said. The ending is like a final punch, a sweeping last chord of a symphony that revels in the journey. The ending is important because it is what echoes. Perhaps, too, it is important because it reminds us of our own fleeting lives. We sing, if only for a moment, and then there is silence.


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