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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Last Things” is a poem of inevitability. Time seems always to control the race, but, as Meredith presents the story, there will be a “reckoning” in which “compassion” can be an ingredient in the final judgment. In each of the stanzas, the poet sees a relic and observes how it exists in the contemporary world. The porcupine of the first stanza seems ludicrous to the casual observer. “He moves with the difficulty of relics.” The porcupine is “oblivious” to how it is observed. Meredith makes the point that how a creature is viewed by humans does not necessarily stand as the indicator of the true value of that creature. This only becomes clear, however, after one reads the entire poem. The porcupine moves at its own pace and answers to time accordingly. The junkyard of cars of the second stanza will be picked clean, so as to equip other cars that still ride the open road. The “old cars” are man-made relics, and they have become a feast for “cars parked on the road like cannibals.” There is even an element of dark humor in the image of cars ready to strike “like cannibals.” Yet Meredith has a larger—and more eternal—theme in mind, and the final two stanzas complete the moral picture.

The English soldiers and governors of the third stanza had struggled to make the best of things on the African continent. Meredith notes that the majority of them were “men of honor” and that the natural environment has conferred “an antique grandeur” on the statues left behind. Their own country forgot about them, and, ironically, “more dreadful shapes of the ego” can be found “In the parks and squares of England.”

In the final stanza, there is the image of the mythological “fallen gods” being “chained, immortal” to a cliff. The story of Prometheus is a gruesome...

(The entire section is 466 words.)