The End of the Poem Oxford Lectures

Paul Muldoon

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

416 Pages



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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.


Praise for The End of the Poem

"In The End of the Poem, a collection of fifteen lectures delivered during his term from 1999 to 2004 as Oxford Professor of Poverty . . . the reader gets to look over the shoulder of a prominent poet as he reads the works of other writers in order to illuminate the phrase 'the end of the poem' . . . Over the past thirty years, Paul Muldoon has established himself as a poet—perhaps the poet—of blurry borders and quick shifts of discourse. He has himself suggested that this interest in exploring boundaries relates to his personal history—as a poet raised Catholic in Northern Ireland, who has lives in America since 1987—and his output of genre-bending texts plays out such issues of identity by keeping a plenitude of possible meanings in the air at once . . . The lectures do what they set out to do. Readers familiar with the source poems he handles will undoubtedly see in Muldoon's freewheeling flybys the glint of a new facet never before considered, while new readers will encounter them both as original works and teaching texts for his poetic theories. Even those most resistant to his methods cannot help but reflect on how they relate to his topic of the 'ends' of poetry . . . As a window into the beliefs and practices of one of the most influential poets of the day, this collection is invaluable."—Wayne Kobylinski, West Chester University

"His lectures, delivered with an intimate command of literary history and of individual texts, are nothing if not fascinating."—Sam Munson, The New York Sun

“One of the most impressive books of practical criticism and poetic intelligence I have read in years. It is entertaining, informative, brilliant, distinctive, yet accessible for the common reader . . . Massive intelligence [is] everywhere evident. The book is exemplary, too, in that it is deeply learned and completely unpedantic—no air of the schoolroom about it, just vital, astonishing engagement. If you like hearing someone talk passionately and astutely about something in which he’s an expert, you will like this book . . . His tone is extremely conversable, his style and exposition lucid, and his manner of reading remarkable—idiosyncratic but never less than brilliant. The End of the Poem is the perfect point of entry into Muldoonland; a more companionable and illuminating guide could not be imagined.”—Maureen N. McLane, Chicago Tribune

“Muldoon entertains almost as much as he enlightens, an unusual and refreshing approach . . . Not many books of literary criticism make you laugh.”—The Economist

"[Muldoon's] scholarship is excellent . . . more important, [The End of the Poem] is interesting and easily accessible as well."—Paolina Taglienti, Library Journal

"In his most substantial prose collection to date, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Muldoon offers 15 characteristically idiosyncratic lectures on individual poems by a host of influential world poets, delivered at Oxford University from 1999 to 2004. Rather than explication and clarification, Muldoon favors association and surprise, as he does in his poems. In discussions of often lesser-known poems by major figures, beginning with W.B. Yeats and moving through Emily Dickinson, Ted Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Fernando Pessoa and Irish-born Muldoon's own mentor, Seamus Heaney, Muldoon focuses on the recurrence and etymology of particular words as they relate to other poems and poets, quoting the OED almost as often as poetry. He also locates the poems' origins in other unlikely texts, such as a little-known 1851 Harper's article, which Muldoon claims influenced Dickinson . . . Muldoon's conjectures . . . are always highly compelling and clever, and this book provides an expansive view of the mind of a major poet, and a fresh, if unorthodox, method for reading literary texts."—Publishers Weekly

Table of Contents
All Souls' Night by W.B. Yeats
The Literary Life by Ted Hughes
The Mountain by Robert Frost
12 O'Clock News by Elizabeth Bishop
I tried to think a lonelier Thing by Emily Dickinson
I Remember by Stevie Smith
George III by Robert Lowell
L'anguilla/The Eel by Eugenio Montale
Autopsychography by Fernando Pessoa
Poetry by Marrianne Moore
Sea Poppies by H.D.
Poem of the End by Marina Tsvetayeva
Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold
Homage to Clio by W.H. Auden
Welsh Incident by Robert Graves
A Failure by C. Day-Lewis
Keeping Going by Seamus Heaney
Author's Note

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

The End of the Poem
CHAPTER 1ALL SOULS' NIGHTW. B. YEATSMidnight has come, and the great Christ Church Bell And many a lesser bell sound through the room; And it is All Souls' Night, And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come; For it is a ghost's right, His element is so fine Being sharpened by his death, To drink from the wine-breath While our gross palates drink from the whole wine. 
I need some mind that, if the cannon sound From every quarter of the world, can stay Wound in mind's pondering As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound; Because I
Read the full excerpt


  • Paul Muldoon

  • Paul Muldoon is the author of ten books of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Moy Sand and Gravel and, most recently, Horse Latitudes. He teaches at Princeton University and, between 1999 and 2004, was professor of poetry at Oxford University.
  • Paul Muldoon Peter Cook