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Greatest Closing Lines In Literature

Something I’ve started paying greater attention to lately is the closing lines in various novels and poems. I always find that in the greatest pieces of literary work, the closing lines are the ones that really pack a punch. Below are some of my favourite closing lines in literature from the novels and poems I’ve read.

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte:

I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.

Wuthering Heights’ closing lines are amongst the most beautiful ever composed. The novel focuses on the tumultuous and vengeance focused relationship between two intensely disturbed people, Cathy and Heathcliff. Amongst the most striking aspects of the novel is the descriptions of the harsh and windy moors of Yorkshire. At the close of the novel, both Cathy and Heathcliff are dead, as is Edgar Linton, who was cruelly caught up in their destruction. These closing lines suggest a sense of calm; the moths fluttering through the ‘soft breeze’, and the ‘sleepers’ resting in the earth conclude that they are at peace. The speaker is wishful, however, in trying to understand how anybody could imagine an unquiet slumber within this beautiful, serene setting. Given the lives they led, in many ways it is impossible to imagine a peaceful slumber for these characters. Most importantly, the moors are finally at peace, only leaving a soft breeze.

2. Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

[Laura] Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
“For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.

‘Goblin Market’ was Rossetti’s most successful poem within her lifetime, however one of the reasons it has stayed within the critical eye is because of its complex themes. On the outside, it encompasses sisterly affection and love; the importance of women sticking together in a male dominated world. On another level, the descriptions throughout are highly sexualised, even between the two ‘sisters’ Laura and Lizzie. The work was influenced by Rossetti’s time working in a Magdalen penitentiary for ‘fallen women’, where women helped other women to get their lives back in order. ‘Goblin Market’ is essentially the representation of a fallen woman, but its allusion to a deeply homoerotic and female love is vital to its central message.

The closing lines to Rossetti’s greatest work are empowering and filled with love. It concludes with Laura, the ‘fallen woman’ telling her children many years on of the importance of standing by one’s sister. For Rossetti, this last stanza was particularly poignant, as she encountered women every day who had been used and discarded by men. Ultimately her message is a feminist one; that women should rely upon each other for fulfillment and security.

3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ighiguro

I found I was standing before acres of ploughed earth. There was a fence keeping me from stepping into the field, with two lines of barbed wire, and I could see how this fence and the cluster of three or four trees above me were the only things breaking the wind for miles. All alone the fence, especially along the lower line of wire, all sorts of rubbish had caught and tangled. It was like the debris you get on a sea-shore: the wind must have carried some of it for miles and miles before finally coming up against these trees and these two lines of wire. Up in the branches of the trees, too, I could see, flapping about, torn plastic sheeting and bits of old carrier bags. That was the only time, as I stood there, looking at that strange rubbish, feeling the wind coming across those empty fields, that I started to imagine just a little fantasy thing, because this was Norfolk after all, and it was only a couple of weeks since I’d lost him. I was thinking about the rubbish, the flapping plastic in the branches, the shore-line of odd stuff caught along the fencing, and I half closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I’d ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was no standing here in front of it, and if I waited long enough, a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field, and gradually get larger until I’d see it was Tommy, and he’d wave, maybe even call. The fantasy never got beyond that – I didn’t let it – and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn’t sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is amongst the most powerful novels of modern times, and understandably so. Focusing on the fragility of life in an alternative version of the past, it is an often devastating representation. Ishiguro’s writing is one of the greatest aspects of the novel. The extract above is the final paragraph of Never Let Me Go. I tried to narrow it down and select only a few lines, but with this conclusion, the entire paragraph is needed. He sets up the scene as one that embodies grief and death. Cathy’s acceptance of the life she has to live is evident, and it is made doubly poignant by its long, winding sentences.

4. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

But he had already jerked straight round, stared, glared again, and seen but the quiet day. With the stroke of the loss I was so proud of he uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss, and the grasp with which I recovered him might have been that of catching him in his fall. I caught him, yes, I held him– it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a minute I began to feel what it truly was that I held. We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.

The Turn of the Screw is the pinnacle of Victorian ghost stories. Set in the English countryside, a Governess goes to work with two seemingly adorable orphaned children in their uncle’s country estate. However almost immediately, strange things begin to happen, and the children are at the centre of these proceedings. As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly uncanny, as the Governess starts to become hysterical. The question starts to emerge, has she lost her mind, or is the house actually haunted? In many ways, the novel is left without a concrete conclusion, but is left to the reader to decide what happens. The closing lines above entail the Governess’s attempts to rid Miles of the ghost that is plaguing him. It ends on the ambiguous note that, in this struggle, Miles, the child, has died. It is one of the most chilling endings in literature, leaving the reader to fill in what is not told. This is just as chillingly depicted in the famous ghost movie adaptation The Innocents from 1961, starring Deborah Kerr as the Governess.

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