In "Endings," Derek Walcott echoes the ending of T. S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men," which concludes with the well-known lines:
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Appropriately, in view of the title, Walcott begins his poem with Eliot's final image, applying this description of the world fading away quietly to objects, feelings and sensations:
Things do not explode,
they fail, they fade.
The speaker then elaborates and gives examples: sunlight on skin, the foam of sea on the sand, even love, all these are transient and fade away slowly. Their instability and impermanence are only accentuated by the gradual nature of their disappearance.
"To Norline" is also a meditation on the transience of love. This time, the speaker reflects how others will occupy the same spaces that he shared with Norline, varying their rituals:
and someone else will come
from the still-sleeping house,
a coffee mug warming his palm
as my body once cupped yours.
All the speaker has left is memory, which focuses his attention on a page that is "hard to turn," even though the events it describes are lost forever.
"The Young Wife" is a poem about death but, paradoxically, ends with a more hopeful image:
She sits there smiling that cancer
kills everything but Love.
The speaker attempts to comfort the husband of the dead wife, telling him to busy himself with the funeral rituals and duties to prevent him from brooding on his wife's untimely death. He contrasts the light, transient nature of life, which is so soon and so easily over, with the heaviness and grief left behind for those who mourn.