And this is the end,
the car running out of road,
the river losing its name in an ocean,
the long nose of the photographed horse
touching the white electronic line.
This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
the empty wheelchair,
and pigeons floating down in the evening.
Here the stage is littered with bodies,
the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
and the climbers are in their graves.
It is me hitting the period
and you closing the book.
It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
This is the final bit
thinning away to nothing.
This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.

— Billy Collins

I chose this piece of poetry, excerpted from a larger piece entitled “Aristotle” by former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins, for two main reasons. The full poem is partitioned into three sections: Beginning, Middle, and End — each stanza opening with a line stating where it falls, as this section does, “This is the end.” I picked this section — the End — because December is upon us. It is the end of the year and the end of the first semester of my senior year here at Washington and Lee (so, technically, it is the beginning of the end). Being at the end encourages, nay demands!, reflection of the beginning and the middle in retrospect. So that’s what we’ll do this week – ruminate and reflect.

The entire stanza consists of a seemingly random list of images strung together: an empty wheelchair, St. Clement with an anchor around his neck, a stage littered with bodies. They all invoke feelings of melancholy, the sense of something that “once was” in the reader. The melancholic tone is understandable: the ultimate “end,” is, after all, death. Even for endings not quite as depressing (such as the end of a college career – which gets pretty close), there is something about the finality of endings that is inherently somber. My personal favorite lines are the ones that conjure up the literary endings: “the stage littered with bodies,” or the conclusion of each and every Shakespearean tragedy. And “the narrator leads the characters to their cells,” as their story has come to a close.

So, why the title “Aristotle”? For a poem so clearly delineated, it recalls the philosopher’s works on the art of persuasive writing. There are elements that correspond with each of his three appeals: ethos, logos, pathos. To start with ethos, or the establishment of credibility: the stanza is written in free verse, closely mirroring speech. There’s no metric, nor rhyme scheme, but at no point is the text mistakable for anything but poetry. The reader immediately trusts the skill of a writer who needs no typical poetic markers to delineate his work as poetry, not prose. Logos shines through in the references to St. Clement I, a Greek Pope during Emperor Trajan’s reign in the late 1st century. He was executed by the emperor (and subsequently martyred) for ministering to prisoners in a stone quarry by having an anchor fascinated around his neck before being thrown into the Black Sea. It’s an obscure reference, but no major consequences arise if the allusion is missed. Finally, pathos, or an emotional appeal, comes when the narrator aligns himself with his reader: when he uses the pronoun “we.” “What we have all been waiting for, what everything comes down to, the destination we cannot help imagining.” Characterizing the end as a “destination” offers an emotional 180-degree turn: an ending is sad, to be sure, but describing the end as a destination makes it sounds almost like vacation – a chance to take a break, or a rest.

The poem ends with two contrasted images: the first, “a streak of light in the sky,” is external, universal, spectacular. The final line, and final image, “a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves,” is domestic and comparatively plain. It’s an appropriate choice to end on the cabin, occupied by the wearer of the hat, rather than the ambiguous “streak of light.” It grounds us, brings us all home. Instead of being overwhelmingly somber or trying too hard to be cosmic, it is comforting and warm and protective. An image of home – where I can’t wait to be in just one short week. For now, we’re officially hitting the period and closing the book on this semester. See you all next time!

— Lilly Wimberly ’18


Collins, Billy.  “Aristotle.”  Poetry Foundation,

[ For more by Billy Collins, his 2017 book The Rain in Portugal can be found for purchase here: ]


Your daughter is ugly.
She knows loss intimately,
carries whole cities in her belly.

As a child, relatives wouldn’t hold her.
She was splintered wood and sea water.
She reminded them of the war.

On her fifteenth birthday you taught her
how to tie her hair like rope
and smoke it over burning frankincense.

You made her gargle rosewater
and while she coughed, said
macaanto girls like you shouldn’t smell
of lonely or empty.

You are her mother.
Why did you not warn her,
hold her like a rotting boat
and tell her that men will not love her
if she is covered in continents,
if her teeth are small colonies,
if her stomach is an island
if her thighs are borders?

What man wants to lie down
and watch the world burn
in his bedroom?

Your daughter’s face is a small riot,
her hands are a civil war,
a refugee camp behind each ear,
a body littered with ugly things.

But God,
doesn’t she wear
the world well?

— Warsan Shire

I spent this previous summer working at a social justice newspaper in Cape Town, South Africa. While on assignment, I caught a glimpse into some of the city’s more unsavory corners. The poverty I saw juxtaposed sharply with the country’s natural splendor. I was told that that was the case for much of the continent of Africa. Cape Town’s beauty (and poverty) however, often paled in comparison to its people. Warm, diverse, and vibrant, yet struggling to reconcile with inherited legacies of horrible violence, oppression, and conflict.

While there, I tried to read as much African literature as I could get my hands on in order to understand a little of this struggle. I grew especially fond of young Somali-British writer Warsan Shire. A 26-year-old working through some serious themes in her poetry, she was named Young Poet Laureate of London in 2014. The above poem is an excerpt from her 2011 collection Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth. What I love about Shire is that she’s undeniably a part of a new, exciting generation of poets: those born on MySpace, nurtured on Tumblr, and currently coming of age on Twitter. They have social consciousness and political motivations. They live and write in our world of hyper-connectedness online.

As for Shire’s own background, she was born in Kenya to Somali parents. She migrated from Africa to Europe at a young age and much of her poetry deals with her subsequent struggles to cope with her identity post-migration. Detached from her cultural homeland and ancestors, through her poetry Shire has often embodied the displacement many immigrants feel in an unfamiliar country. In her spare time, she collaborated on Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade (2016), a mark of her quickly growing influence within the artistic sphere.

“Ugly” is a powerful and heavy piece that taps into the rich tradition of storytelling present in many African cultures. The way I read it, “Ugly” uses a girl-child – an immigrant – as an allegory for Africa: its history of ugly civil war, ugly colonization, and ugly oppression. This child’s body, like the continent, is “littered” with “ugly things” – refugee camps, riots, boarders: souvenirs of brutal conflict and hard journeys. Because of her “problems,” she is found difficult to love by the more fortunate corners of the world, who do not wish to feel the intimate loss she feels, who do not wish to “watch the world burn / in [their] bedroom.” To me, Shire is trying to square what she knows is beautiful – Africa’s peoples and cultures – with its traumatic inheritance.

The form of the poem is authoritative. It’s declarative – there are many end stops, almost every line closes with a comma or period. Shire isn’t asking for input or opening a conversation: it is as if she is simply stating reality, what is. “You are her mother.” “She reminded them of the war.” “Your daughter is ugly.” End of discussion. It feels like a chastisement to the rest of the world: Take care of your human family.

However, the final stanza does not end on a despairing, or even negative, note. It takes a turn for the hopeful: “But God, / doesn’t she wear/the world well.” Another statement: Shire knows the daughter is beautiful both due to, and in spite of, her colonies, islands, boarders, riots, wars, and camps. And I think she’s daring the rest of the world to know likewise.

— Lilly Wimberly ’18

“Ugly.” Poetry International. 2013.  Web.

[For more by Warsan Shire, her book Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth can be found for purchase here:]