What last lines stand out in your head?
June 22, 2012 6:56 PM   Subscribe

What are the best ending lines of poems/short stories/novels/movies?

I am a writer, and am quickly realizing that ending poems and stories well is my weakness. I want to know what makes a particularly powerful ending, and look at last lines that have proven effective to see how the author packs that punch.

posted by karminai to Writing & Language (72 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure there's TOMES written about the end of the Sun Also Rises. Holy god did that last line change the entire book AND provide a cathartic ending. I read a lot. A lot a lot, and I've never found an ending better than that.
posted by OrangeDrink at 6:58 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two most striking endings, for different reasons: the ending of Infinite Jest and the ending of the short story "The Dead" by James Joyce.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:59 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

'I mean it, Yossarian. You'll have to keep on your toes every minute of every day.
They'll bend heaven and earth to catch you.'
'I'll keep on my toes every minute.'
'You'll have to jump.'
'I'll jump.'
'Jump!' Major Danby cried.
Yossarian jumped. Nately's whore was hiding just outside the door. The knife came
down, missing him by inches, and he took off.
posted by gerryblog at 7:06 PM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

I love the last line of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston, about Newfoundland -- "We are a people in whose bodies old sea-seeking rivers roar with blood."
posted by bewilderbeast at 7:11 PM on June 22, 2012

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." (The Great Gatsby)

"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?" (Stand By Me, movie version of Stephen King's The Body -- not sure if the novella ends exactly that way)

"Hello, sugar," I’ll say when she answers. "It’s me." (Where I'm Calling From)
posted by headnsouth at 7:13 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

The ending from Elizabeth Bishop's poem "One Art" is quite powerful: Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident the art of losing's not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
posted by livinglearning at 7:18 PM on June 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

posted by Gator at 7:20 PM on June 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

It would have been still more impossible for his confreres to realize that the day might come when Americans would hear their names and say, “Oh, yes—now, which one was he?”

Tom Wolfe
The Right Stuff
posted by Relay at 7:22 PM on June 22, 2012

A couple that stuck with me -

"And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one." - A Christmas Carol

"But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing." - House At Pooh Corner
posted by dotgirl at 7:24 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, and oh my, a line that makes me want to go back to the beginning and read it all over again: "He turned out the light and went into Jem's room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning." (To Kill A Mockingbird)
posted by headnsouth at 7:28 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

A Boy and His Dog:

"Well, I'd certainly say she had marvelous judgment, Albert, if not particularly good taste."
posted by blurker at 7:28 PM on June 22, 2012

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
T.S. Eliot - The Hollow Men

Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
    If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
    And take short views.
W.H. Auden - Under Which Lyre
posted by man down under at 7:29 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

The ending of Arthur C. Clarke's short story "The Nine Billion Names of God" is one of my favorites. I won't spoil it because it's short enough to read in a few minutes (here).
posted by nakedandalone at 7:29 PM on June 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

--An Irish Airman Forsees His Death
--WB Yeats

... The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

-An Arundel Tomb
--Philip Larkin
posted by Chrischris at 7:35 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

    When old age shall this generation waste,
        Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
John Keats - Ode on a Grecian Urn
posted by man down under at 7:38 PM on June 22, 2012

The final lines of Richard Siken's poem "Boot Theory" have stuck with me for a long time, and likely will for a long time to come:

"A man takes his sadness down to the river and throws it in the river
but then he's still left
with the river. A man takes his sadness and throws it away
but then he's still left with his hands."

The last lines of The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, which is narrated by Death:

"All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know. I said it to the book thief and I say it now to you.

I am haunted by humans."

posted by yasaman at 7:40 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Well, I'm back," he said.
posted by zadcat at 7:54 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bruscamente la tarde se ha aclarado
Porque ya cae la lluvia minuciosa.
Cae o cayó. La lluvia es una cosa
Que sin duda sucede en el pasado.

Quien la oye caer ha recobrado
El tiempo en que la suerte venturosa
Le reveló una flor llamada rosa
Y el curioso color del colorado.

Esta lluvia que ciega los cristales
Alegrará en perdidos arrabales
Las negras uvas de una parra en cierto

Patio que ya no existe. La mojada
Tarde me trae la voz, la voz deseada,
De mi padre que vuelve y que no ha muerto.

- Jorge Luis Borges, "La Lluvia"
posted by Iosephus at 7:57 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

and miles to go before I sleep.
I am the captain of my soul.
Ride on.
He's gone.
posted by vozworth at 8:05 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

The door sprang open
and the cops rushed in.
– Joseph Moncure March, "The Wild Party"
posted by nicwolff at 8:06 PM on June 22, 2012

Conradin made himself another piece of toast.
posted by elizardbits at 8:10 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I felt like a monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger: A man on the move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream)
Hunter S. Thompson
posted by Relay at 8:12 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

"'Darling,' it said."

Stephen King, Pet Sematary

Scared the living out of me.
posted by cyndigo at 8:13 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Joyce was good at endings. Consider Ulysses:

the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Even Finnegans Wake is rather lovely, especially when you consider the ending becomes the beginning of the novel:

And it's old and old it's sad and old it's sad and weary I go back to you, my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad feary father, till the near sight of the mere size of him, the moyles and moyles of it, moananoaning, makes me seasilt saltsick and I rush, my only, into your arms. I see them rising! Save me from those therrble prongs! Two more. Onetwo moremens more. So. Avelaval. My leaves have drifted from me. All. But one clings still. I'll bear it on me. To remind me of. Lff! So soft this morning, ours. Yes. Carry me along, taddy, like you done through the toy fair! If I seen him bearing down on me now under whitespread wings like he'd come from Arkangels, I sink I'd die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup. Yes, tid. There's where. First. We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us
then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the

posted by Cash4Lead at 8:14 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

The last lines of What is the What took my breath away:

"How can I pretend that you do not exist? It would be almost as impossible as you pretending I did not exist."
posted by something something at 8:16 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

The last line of James Wright's poem Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota:

I have wasted my life.
posted by Toecutter at 8:16 PM on June 22, 2012

From 1984: He loved Big Brother.
posted by Cash4Lead at 8:18 PM on June 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

Wuthering Heights: “I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”
posted by kandinski at 8:19 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

–Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

He loved Big Brother.

–George Orwell, 1984

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

–George Orwell, Animal Farm

‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’

–Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.

–Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going,
all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must
be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

–Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

–J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather
about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple
joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.

–Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.

–William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair

“Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”

–Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.

-Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

We shall come back, no doubt, to walk down the Row and watch young people on the tennis courts by the clump of mimosas and walk down the beach by the bay, where the diving floats lift gently in the sun, and on out to the pine grove, where the
needles thick on the ground will deaden the footfall so that we shall move among the trees as soundlessly as smoke. But that will be a long time from now, and soon now we shall go out of the house and go into the convulsion of the world, out of
history into history and the awful responsibility of Time.

–Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men

From the sky a swift Angel descends, an Angel with a golden helmet and green spurs, a flaming sword in his hand, an Angel escaped from the Indo-Hispanic altars of opulent hunger, from need overcome by sleep, from the coupling of opposites:
body and soul, wakefulness and death, living and sleeping, remembering and desiring, imagining: the happy boy who reaches the sad land carries all this on his lips, he bears the memory of death, white and extinguished, like the flame that went out in his mother’s belly: for a swift, marvelous instant, the boy being born knows that this light of memory, wisdom, and death was an Angel and that this other Angel who flies from the navel of heaven with the sword in his hand is the fraternal enemy of the first: he is the Baroque Angel, with a sword in his hand and quetzal wings, and a serpent doublet, and a golden helmet, the Angel strikes, strikes the lips of the boy being born on the beach: the burning and painful sword strikes his lips and the boy forgets, he forgets everything forgets everything, f

–Carlos Fuentes, Christopher Unborn
posted by magstheaxe at 8:25 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

(There's a tumblr for this, by the way!)
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:28 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

-September, 1939 W.H. Auden

Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

-Praise the Mutilated World, Adam Zagajewski
posted by elizeh at 8:29 PM on June 22, 2012

We should remove from Congress the career politicians who have held the nation hostage to benefit their own interests, and return to the lawmaking institution citizen legislators who might govern honestly and with common sense

-wrote every election year propaganda pamphlet.
posted by vozworth at 8:35 PM on June 22, 2012

The last line of Robertson Davies' The Cunning Man has long been my favourite "last line," particularly touching when you take into consideration it was the final line of his final novel:

“This is the Great Theatre of Life. Admission is free, but the taxation is mortal. You come when you can, and leave when you must. The show is continuous. Goodnight.”
posted by ilana at 8:44 PM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple.

J.D. Salinger, A Perfect Day for Bananafish
posted by Thorzdad at 9:08 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Postmen like doctors go from house to house."
--"Aubade", Philip Larkin.

The ending of Nabokov's "Spring in Fialta," which is too long to quote and spoils the rest.

"I am Vincent Moon. Now despise me."
--"The Form of the Sword", J. L. Borges.

"Il a deux trous rouges au coté droit."
--"Le dormeur du val", Arthur Rimbaud

"Con alivio, con humillación, con terror, comprendió que él también era una apariencia, que otro estaba soñándolo."
--"Las ruinas circulares", Jorge Luis Borges.

"lady fingers they taste just like lady fingers"
--"Survivor Type", Stephen King

"And strangest of all is it to hold my wife's hand again, and to think that I have counted her, and that she has counted me, among the dead."
--The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells

"Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you."
--"Song of Myself", Walt Whitman
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:20 PM on June 22, 2012

Two movies: Some Like it Hot and The Italian Job.

Wikipedia has the spoilers: here and here. (But the delivery is so important!)
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 9:36 PM on June 22, 2012

"i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my one hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed."

--Won't you celebrate with me, Lucille Clifton
posted by Anitanola at 9:46 PM on June 22, 2012

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.

- A River Runs Through It
posted by jcworth at 9:51 PM on June 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

"Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not
have a second opportunity on earth."

–Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

- William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming.
posted by msali at 10:09 PM on June 22, 2012

It lived! And nothing could destroy it.

Once more she looked at Florry Wendy reading on the fire escape.

"Goodbye,Francie", she whispered.

She closed the window.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
posted by brujita at 10:47 PM on June 22, 2012

Today marks my final roll call with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps.

I bid you farewell.

MacArthur's Thayer Award Address
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 10:47 PM on June 22, 2012

"But even after admitting this, there is no catharsis; my punishment continues to elude me, and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself. No new knowledge can be extracted from my telling. This confession has meant nothing." -- American Psycho (film)

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." -- Animal Farm, George Orwell

"There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can't fix it, you've got to stand it." -- Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx

"We each owe a death, there are no exceptions, I know that, but sometimes, oh God, the Green Mile is so long." -- The Green Mile, Stephen King
posted by xyzzy at 10:57 PM on June 22, 2012


(caps in the original)

The Charterhouse of Parma - Robert Stendahl.

The book was written in French, but that line was in English.

As a young man, ambitious and hopeful in Washington, D.C. in the dreadful summer of 2002, that line resonated.
posted by psergio at 11:02 PM on June 22, 2012

The last lines of Cormac McCarthy's The Road paint a picture of natural beauty and wonder which is absolutely devastating because in the book's reality those things are gone forever:

"Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."

Equally devastating, but in a different way, are the last lines of Seamus Heaney's poem, Mid Term Break. The poem describes the funeral of the writer's younger brother, but you don't realise how young his brother was until the last line:

"No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year."
posted by meronym at 11:59 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Butch Cassidy: [as the pair are outnumbered and pinned down] Wait a minute — you didn't see Lefors out there did you?
Sundance Kid: Lefors? No, why?
Butch Cassidy: Thank God for that. For a moment there I thought we were in trouble.
posted by chiefthe at 12:23 AM on June 23, 2012

"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." -Chinatown
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:43 AM on June 23, 2012

Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.
-Shakespeare, Sonnet 87

For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds.
-Shakespeare, Sonnet 94

Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
-Dylan Thomas, Fern Hill

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
-William Stafford, A Ritual to Read to Each Other
posted by colfax at 1:18 AM on June 23, 2012

E. M. Forster, A Room with a View: The song died away; they heard the river, bearing down the snows of winter into the Mediterranean.

(Beautiful image that encapsulates the main theme of the novel)
posted by clair-de-lune at 1:42 AM on June 23, 2012

Another vote for the final passage of The Dead, particularly the last two paragraphs, and most particularly the last gorgeous sentence.
posted by scody at 1:43 AM on June 23, 2012

whoops, sorry -- cut off said gorgeous sentence: His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
posted by scody at 1:44 AM on June 23, 2012

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

--Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot

Best final line EVER.
posted by guster4lovers at 1:46 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lord of the Rings:

"Well, I'm back," he said.
posted by mono blanco at 4:25 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

The last line of "Farewell My Lovely" by Raymond Chandler is one of my favorites, but I won't quote it because it could spoil the plot.

The last lines of the short story "Rock Springs" by Richard Ford are really powerful too. I won't quote them either because someone has posted the whole story online here.
posted by pete_22 at 5:08 AM on June 23, 2012

I've always found the last sentence of Treasure Island very powerful, because it suddenly makes it clear that this isn't just a ripping yarn with pirates and buried treasure, it's a nightmare that will haunt the narrator for the rest of his life:

Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: 'Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!'
posted by verstegan at 5:20 AM on June 23, 2012

Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge is a weird sort of shaggy dog story: as the end approaches, the plot gets more and more meandering, and you find yourself wondering how on earth the author is going to wrap everything up in a satisfying way by the final page. And then the last sentence does indeed wrap everything up and gives you a little jolt of wisdom on top of it. Just go read it; it's one of the most underrated novels ever.

One-line poems tend to be gimmicky as hell, but W.S. Merwin's Elegy is brilliant, and the last (only!) line is heartbreakingly good.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:07 AM on June 23, 2012

As for poetry, Sharon Olds' "The Girl." [Actual useful trigger warning: contains harrowing sexual assault and violence.]

A very good example of how one way to do the impact of last lines has to do with rhythm, unexpected direction and tight, super-specific visual imagery.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:38 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is a poem by Dorothy Parker about the Virgin Mary playing with Christ as a child. The last quatrain:

"Ah, let her go, kind Lord, where mothers go
And boast his pretty words and ways, and plan
The proud and happy years that they shall know
Together, when her son is grown a man."
posted by kandinski at 6:51 AM on June 23, 2012

Casablanca: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

The Usual Suspects: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that... he is gone.”
posted by ecorrocio at 7:42 AM on June 23, 2012

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.
posted by wwax at 8:51 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

The end of Koestler's Darkness at Noon, describing Rubashov's murder in prison:

A second, smashing blow hit him on the ear. Then all became quiet. There was the sea again with its sounds. A wave slowly lifted him up. It came from afar and travelled sedately on, a shrug of eternity.
posted by Beardman at 9:05 AM on June 23, 2012

The last line of Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt.
I really can't give it away.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:33 AM on June 23, 2012

"... the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on."
posted by Calicatt at 9:47 AM on June 23, 2012

The last pages of Smilla's Sense of Snow are what would be the climactic peak of many other novels. So when things are just sort of dying down, and Smilla, the narrator, has kind of had all the answers and their consequences dumped on her, and is ruminating on all that, the last line of the book is:

"There will be no resolution."

Clive Barker's Weaveworld begins with a page about how the beginning points of stories are sort of arbitrary, and how no story really ever has a beginning, and ends with:

"And this story, having had no beginning, has no end."
posted by Mister Moofoo at 10:25 AM on June 23, 2012

2 by Marge Piercy:

The friend
Have you cut off your hands yet?

What's That Smell in the Kitchen?
Burning dinner is not incompetence but war.

Anne Sexton - For My Lover, Returning To His Wife
As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.

2 by e e cummings:

i carry your heart with me
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

somewhere i have never travelled
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

and my favorite

Pablo Neruda Every Day You Play
I want
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

posted by theora55 at 2:30 PM on June 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Calicatt, I learned about that poem, Musée des Beaux-Arts, and the painting it describes, Breugel's Landscape With the Fall of Icarus from the film The Man Who Fell to Earth by Nicolas Roeg based on the novel The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis. So, a film based on a novel mentions a poem describing a painting that illustrates a myth.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 3:45 PM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not Dying by Mark Strand (last two lines, actually):

I am the same boy
My mother used to kiss.

Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert Heinlein:

Heaven is where Margrethe is.

A Widow for One Year by John Irving:

"Don't cry, honey," Marion told her only daughter. "It's just Eddie and me."
posted by h00py at 6:15 PM on June 23, 2012

A Midsummer Night's Dream:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
posted by trillian at 11:41 AM on June 24, 2012

'Suttree' by Cormac McCarthy has a strong ending, not just the last few lines but more broadly, the whole wrapping up of the novel.
posted by BigSky at 6:42 AM on June 25, 2012

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

-- Sarah Williams, The Old Astronomer to His Pupil
Robert Frost's Fire and Ice always gives me a proper chill at its conclusion, too.

Oh yes, and related to this from earlier:
...remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.
That's the end of the first Alice book, of course. This is the last stanza of the prefatory poem of the second book:
And, though the shadow of a sigh
May tremble through the story,
For “happy summer days” gone by,
And vanish’d summer glory--
It shall not touch, with breath of bale,
The pleasance of our fairy-tale.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 10:57 PM on June 25, 2012

“I wrote at the start that this was a record of hate, and walking there beside Henry towards the evening glass of beer, I found the one prayer that seemed to serve the winter mood: O God, You’ve done enough, You’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever.”
-- Graham Greene, The End of the Affair
posted by gauche at 1:16 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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