In The End of the Poem, the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Paul Muldoon presents engaging, rigorous, and insightful explorations of a diverse group of poems drawn mostly from the twentieth century, from Yeats's "All Souls' Night" to Fernando Pessoa's "Autopsychography" to Stevie Smith's "I Remember." Within this collection of fifteen lectures, delivered by Muldoon during his tenure as Oxford's Professor of Poetry, he reminds us that the word "poem" comes, via French, from the Latin and Greek: "a thing made or created." He asks: Can a poem ever be a freestanding, discrete structure, or must it always interface with the whole of its author's bibliography—and biography? Muldoon explores the boundlessness, the illimitability, created by influence, what Robert Frost meant when he insisted that "the way to read a poem in prose or verse is in the light of all the other poems ever written." And he writes of the boundaries between writer and reader and the extent to which one determines the role of the other.
Muldoon also returns to the most fruitful, and fraught, aspect of the phrase "the end of the poem": the interpretations that center on the "aim" or "function" of a poem, and the question of whether or not the end of a poem is the beginning of criticism. Each chapter visits a different sense of an ending: whether a poem's line endings are forms of closure; whether a poem may be completed—as opposed to undone—by the act of translation; and whether revision brings a poem nearer to its ending.