Writing Mini-Lessons: Conclusions, End Strongly

There are two places in a free verse poem, or perhaps in any written piece, where the reader finds the strongest meaning. One place is the turning point, a point in a poem where the poet moves in a surprising, new direction. The second place is a poem’s conclusion. Many poets find that conclusions – last lines – are the places in their poems they revise the most. Strong conclusions leave the reader thinking so that the written words live on in the reader’s mind even after the reading has finished.

Once you have your ideas and thoughts on the page, work to revise your poem’s ending. Follow the guidelines below to ensure that your poem ends strongly.

Conclude Strongly

Review the student drafts below. Reflect on how the conclusion in the final draft differs from the initial conclusion. Does the final draft’s conclusion provide a stronger ending? Why or why not? Discuss your thoughts with a partner or small group.

Answer, Draft 1

The way you were brought into the harbor,
the load was light.
Not breaking one board,
you were ship shape.

The way you were beached.
The way you outlasted the storm
that the night brought.
Your contents were not so lucky.

The way you were forgotten for years.
The way you were taken for useless.
The way your rotten planks creaked and moaned
for someone to remember you,

for water to float in.
Until the day your hopes came true.
The way the two boys found you
lying beneath the dock.

The way they climbed over your low, rotten beams,
covered with moss and fungus.
The way their feet splashed in your murky belly
as the tide came in.
The way they tried to find the answer to your question:
what are you really doing here?

Answer, Draft 2

The way you were brought into the harbor,
the load was light.
Not breaking one board,
you were ship shape.

The way you were beached.
The way you outlasted the storm
that the night brought.
Your contents were not so lucky.

The way you were forgotten for years.
The way you were taken for useless.
The way your rotten planks creaked and moaned
for someone to remember you,

for water to float in.
Until the day your hopes came true.
The way the two boys found you
lying beneath the dock.

The way they climbed over your low, rotten beams,
covered with moss and fungus.
The way their feet splashed in your murky belly
as the tide came in.
The way they tried to find the answer to your question:
how did you find your way home?

~ Kyle Hirsch

Time Will Pass, Draft 1

It is a typical summer day.
Our cottage awakens.
Sun pours through the open window
and into my pale blue room.
Light hits my eyes and for a moment
I am blinded by its everyday brilliance.

Now the sun that woke me this morning
reflects off the sea that surrounds Peaks Island.
I push my paddle deep into the dense water
and glide along its silky surface.
I trail along behind my dad,
thinking about yesterday,
when we went out kayaking but with other people
so it wasn’t as special.
This uncommon time together is precious.
It will last only an hour
and then, just as Cinderella lost everything at midnight,
our time together will end.
I glance at my watch,
inspect the second hand,
watch time fly.
It does.
Too soon, Dad turns
and I turn too,
continuing our swift pace, back to the kayak rental.
We drag our kayaks out of the water
and onto the hot grainy sand.

I hear a sharp blast of the ferry horn
arriving at Peaks.
We run to catch it,
run to catch the boat that will take us
far away from paradise island.

Perfection (Time Will Pass, Draft 2)

It is a typical summer day.
Our cottage awakens.
Sun pours through the open window
and into my pale blue room.
Light hits my eyes and for a moment
I am blinded by its everyday brilliance.

Now the sun that woke me this morning
reflects off the sea that surrounds Peaks Island.
I push my paddle deep into the dense water
and glide along its silky surface.
I trail along behind my dad,
thinking about yesterday,
when we went out kayaking but with other people
so it wasn’t as special.
This uncommon time together is precious.
It will last only an hour
and then, just as Cinderella lost everything at midnight,
our time together will end.
I glance at my watch,
inspect the second hand,
watch time fly.
It does.
Too soon, Dad turns
and I turn too,
continuing our swift pace, back to the kayak rental.
We drag our kayaks out of the water
and onto the hot grainy sand.

“That was fun,” Dad says.
“That was perfect,” I reply.

~ Colleen Connell

Echo Structure

One way to experiment with strong endings is to echo a piece’s engaging beginning/lead in its conclusion. Another possibility is to use the echo structure as a jumping-off point: the conclusion doesn’t exactly reproduce the opening lines, but it borrows its most poignant image.

Here are two examples of poems that use an echo structure to end strongly.

Fantasy World

There is a place
where time doesn’t pass
and I control fate.

Where stone cathedrals
pierce darkened skies,
and fiction and reality

Where an unequaled Garden of Eden
is borne from the darkest stone
and nothing is
what it seems.

The glowing screen envelops me,
warm light cascades across my face,
and the electric hum immerses me
in an endless tide.

In this world
I am worshiped—
a guardian angel,
a savior, a protector.

There is a place
where time doesn’t pass
and I control fate.

~ Jed Chambers

Sarah

The sorrow
deep in dark eyes
outlined in white
rings saddens me

The limp
in her tender step
weakens each time
she sets down a gentle paw

Her fur once golden brown
now white
is still soft and smooth
to my touch

I hold her
I never want
to let go
but know I must
as we carry her to the car

Know that when my dad returns
she will not be
lying in the back
wagging her bushy tail
when I come running out
to greet her

Now all I can do
is remember

Remember the gentle
touch of her paw
or the rough lick
of her tongue
against my
soft cheek
and the sorrow
deep in dark eyes
outlined in
white rings

~ Jonathan Tindal

Now choose one of your pieces to revise to make it end strongly. Brainstorm multiple possible endings. Choose the one that provides the strongest conclusion to your piece.