The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Last Things” is a forty-seven-line meditation that is divided into four stanzas. Included in William Meredith’s 1970 collection, Earth Walk: New and Selected Poems, “Last Things” is one of the thirteen new poems that make up the opening section of the collection; it is the last poem—the impact poem—of the opening section.

In the eleven-line first stanza, the poet observes a porcupine crossing a road. The porcupine’s movements are described as reminding him of other “relics”: “Possum, armadillo, horseshoe crab.” They seem “arthritic with time.” The porcupine and the other creatures are neither cute nor graceful, and “In all their slowness we see no dignity.” The porcupine is “oblivious,” though, to its standing on the evolutionary chart, and at the end of the stanza “he falls off/ Deliberately and without grace into the ferns.” Meredith moves to a completely new location in the thirteen-line second stanza. He describes the situation of a different type of relic, old cars in a junkyard. The contents and arrangement of the junkyard are detailed. The “old cars” have been “kept for the parts”; there are “Fenders and chassis and the engine blocks.” The rows in the junkyard conjure up the image of “an old orchard” that follows “the contours of the hill.” The cars and their various parts are on display for the purpose of being picked clean to satisfy the needs of still-functioning cars. The...

(The entire section is 558 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

William Meredith began his poetic career by writing academic verse. Over the years, he slowly shifted toward a more open poetry that tends to be straightforward and personal. Like several of the other new poems of Earth Walk, “Last Things” flows with conversational ease. Meredith does not completely abandon formal constraints, though; he still capitalizes the first letter of each line, for example, but the line and stanza lengths vary. The balance of “Last Things” stems from the maturity of a poet who has learned to create poignant verse without always relying on formal poetic forms. Each stanza stands on its own as a description of a creature or object that, for whatever reason, has become a relic. In the first stanza it is the porcupine, in the second it is old cars, in the third it is statues, and in the last it becomes personal—it is “each of us.” The cumulative effect creates a powerful conclusion. The title “Last Things” immediately introduces the reader to the idea of end results, and Meredith uses concrete images to build a moral case for his point of view.

In “Last Things,” Meredith employs both metaphor and simile. “Tunnel of woods” and “freckled light,” in the first stanza, enhance the description of the locale. When the creatures of the stanza become “like burnt-out galaxies,” Meredith has chosen an appropriate simile to clarify the position these creatures have in the evolutionary scheme of things....

(The entire section is 431 words.)