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: ]

Manhattan Noir

She played in a philharmonic; he was a handyman.
She was trained how to hold a cello by the neck
and draw a bow across its strings so that sound
made listeners leave this world and find themselves
in another that for most was impossible to express.
He strangled her to death backstage behind a curtain.

Her disappearance from others’ lives was like a curtain
suddenly being pulled across in front of them, a woman
who was so talented and alive. How do you express
what the loss of such a gift is, they asked. Her neck
was crushed. That’s what people repeated to themselves
when her murder was discovered, and without sound

they attended her memorial, and, except for the sound
of their own breathing, they stared at a stage curtain
with a large photograph of her which they themselves
recognized as if they had taken it of that young woman,
which showed her smiling, holding her cello by the neck.
Then they left, entered the subway, and took the express

uptown to parts of Manhattan—but even the express
could not take them away fast enough from a sound
that was only absence. He pressed down on her neck
with his thumbs as he knelt over her behind the curtain,
until her eyes almost burst out of her, a young woman
that he admitted not knowing. Family asked themselves,

why? Why did he have to kill her? They themselves
knew the answer—because he could. Because, to express
whatever was inside him, he strangled a young woman
he didn’t know but saw at times rehearsing in a sound-
proof rehearsal room. So he hid behind a thick curtain
hiding old lighting equipment. He grabbed her neck,

he admitted to police, and couldn’t believe that her neck
was actually between his fingers. His fingers themselves
seemed actually not to have any feeling, as if a curtain
had come between them and her. It was hard to express
what he felt at that moment, even as he heard the sound
coming from her throat as he choked that young woman.

In black dress, she holds the cello’s neck, trying to express
not only what great musicians themselves hear, but a sound
she believes lies waiting behind a curtain in every human.

— Stephen Gibson

Manhattan Noir is a depressing tale about the death of a talented cello player. She was a prodigy and those who attended her funeral truly felt a gift to the community was lost. The death of the skilled cellist was cause by a handyman who “strangled her to death backstage behind a curtain.” The cause of the murder was truly a mystery. The handyman had no connection with the girl and people did not understand why he killed her. Eventually, people concluded that he had done so simply. “because he could. Because to express whatever was inside him, he strangled a young woman he didn’t know but saw at times rehearsing in a soundproof rehearsal room.”

This poem is great on a technical level. Its pathos evokes sorrow within the reader for the cello player, as her life ended far too soon. The author also makes use of symbolism, connecting the grip on the neck of the cello and the grip of the handyman on the cello player’s neck. This allows the reader to truly envision the firm grasp on both necks and to understand how the cello player was killed. This is best shown in the final lines when the author says “she holds the cello’s neck, trying to express not what only what great musicians themselves hear, but a sound she believes lies waiting behind a curtain in every human.” The author also makes use of repetition: excluding the final paragraph, the last word of the final line of each paragraph is always the final word on the first line of the following paragraph.

This poem also struck me on a personal level, because it highlights how quickly life can end and how one’s life can end for an unjust reason. The woman was a young, talented cello player with a bright future playing on the big stage in Manhattan. Her death was entirely due to a maniac’s desire to hurt others. Deaths can be caused by unforeseen circumstances. There are countless people murdered everyday. There are some killed during wars, some killed in accidental situations such as car accidents, and some brutally murdered for unjust reasons.  This poem can influence a reader to live their life to the fullest.  It is the idea that one should truly make the most out of everyday.

I have always been advised by my family to make the most out of my time alive. It is even more important to spend as much time as possible with the people you care about, because you do not know how long they will be around. I recently came back from Thanksgiving break where I spent time with my ninety-year-old grandma. She is my only grandparent and I care for her greatly. Unfortunately, her memories are getting mixed up and she gets very confused at times about how to use her telephone, she struggles to hear the television, and doesn’t remember meeting certain people. I know one day, she will eventually die of old age, thus I want to make the most of the time I spend with her.

I feel sad for the family members and friend of the star cellist. She died at a young age and clearly before her time. In the end, they will remember the good times they had with her and always think of her in a positive way. I think about my friends in college who I adore greatly. I hope that they all live to an old age, make the most of their time on this planet, and are never placed in a situation like that of the cello player in New York. 

— Bryce Zaremby ’18

[This poem featured in Shenandoah Volume 64, Number 1. All selections from the issue can be found at this link: ]

“A Part Song”


You principle of song, what are you for now
Perking up under any spasmodic light
To trot out your shadowed warblings?

Mince, slight pillar. And sleek down
Your furriness. Slim as a whippy wire
Shall be your hope, and ultraflexible.

Flap thinly, sheet of beaten tin
That won’t affectionately plump up
More cushioned and receptive lays.

But little song, don’t so instruct yourself
For none are hanging around to hear you.
They have gone bustling or stumbling well away.

— Denise Riley

“The only constant is a commitment to the thing that is song,” Denise Riley said in an interview with Shearsman Books on the topic of her poetry. Throughout her lengthy career, Riley has adopted the guises of feminist critic, philosopher, and poet, but has kept a consistent and undeniable music to her writing. However, in this selection from her most recent book Say Something Back, she challenges this fundamental aspect of her poetry and poetry in general.

This selection is part of a longer “song cycle” called “A Part Song,” a long work that cycles through a variety of different expressions of song, elegy, and voice in order to process the death of Riley’s son. This section, which begins the poem, acts a sort of thesis statement, posing the major question which Riley addresses through the rest of “A Part Song:” “you principle of song, what are you for now?”

Within the context of Riley’s poetry, this question represents a huge break with her tradition as a lyric poet. In this first stanza, Riley emphasizes “song” as capricious and ineffective. “Spasmodic” shows the fleeting and ephemeral nature of song, while reducing lyricism to “warblings” emphasizes the feeble and wavering nature of song. Riley expresses a need for structure and stability in this trauma that she characterizes poetry as not possessing. This continues in the next stanza, as song becomes a “slight pillar,” with the mocking word “mince” ascribing weak and potentially effeminate connotations. The words of the poem itself break from lyricism as Riley ends the stanza on the ungainly word “ultraflexible,” a latinate construct that sticks out like a wrong note at the end of a musical phrase.

This section concludes by dismissing song entirely. Riley addresses the concept of song in second person, insulting it by saying “none are hanging around to hear you.” Riley silences the voice of music, the same lyricism that had been a fundamental aspect of her poetry for her entire career. Riley emphasizes the disconnection from music by saying that everyone has “gone bustling or stumbling well away.” From the perspective of someone who sings with a choir, both “bustling” and “stumbling” sound distinctly anti-musical. The run of consonants in the middle of both words (“stl” and “mbl” respectively) force the reader to chew through the words in a way that prevents them from being “singable” or easy to read musically.

The selection I’ve chosen as this poem of the week is filled with jarring words, mocking metaphors, and phrases that can sometimes be difficult to work through. It’s angular style and strange diction are, admittedly, a poor indication of the rest of Riley’s work, or even the rest of “A Part Song.” But the central question it raises is a necessary one, and one that haunts the work of not just Denise Riley, but every poet: In a world filled with sorrows, like the death of Riley’s son, what purpose does the lyric and beautiful have? The inability of traditional “song” poetry to reflect a new world motivated the modernist and postmodernist movements in the 20th century and continues to influence the avant-garde poetry of the Cambridge school as well as the adoption of colloquial internet slang in new contemporary poets.

I would hate to spoil “A Part Song” for you, so again I strongly recommend reading the rest of it before reading this. Riley does reach a conclusion. After cycling through different verse forms and voices in an attempt to reconcile with the death of her son, Riley ultimately concludes with a simple eight-line section of rhyming, metered poetry in which she adopts the voice of her late son calling out to his mother. The last quatrain reads “O let me be, my mother / in no unquiet grave / my bone dust is faint coral / under the fretful wave.” The use of antiquated words and phrases (“o,” “unquiet grave”) as well as the meter and rhyme call an immediate association with English lyric and romantic poetry, marking a reversal from the techniques used at the beginning of the poem. Riley ends the poem by letting her son’s body become a part of the natural world, as her words to fold into the flow of the “fretful wave,” the rhythms moving like the ebb and flow of the water. Riley finds peace in the lyric. She finds solace in the natural rhythms that feel like the waves. And ultimately, she answers the question she began the poem with. “You principle of song, what are you for now?” she asked. It is for expressing pain and accepting it.

— Henry Luzzatto ’18

Riley, Denise. “A Part Song.” London Review of Books, Web.

[ For more by Denise Riley, her book Say Something Back can be found for purchase here: ]

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers

Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

— Adrienne Rich


Adrienne Rich penned “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” quite early in her career, and in so doing foreshadowed the vast majority of her other works. By Rich’s death in 2012 (approximately 60 years after the publication of “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”), she was well known as an incredibly accomplished writer, and even more so as a relentless champion of women’s rights in her works. The tale of Aunt Jennifer and her needlepoint in this poem overlays (perhaps unsurprisingly) Rich’s complex critique of social inequality and disempowerment.

In the first quatrain, the speaker describes what exactly Aunt Jennifer’s tigers are. They are not some attraction in a safari park or circus; rather, they are the images on “a screen” – on Aunt Jennifer’s needlepoint. Rich’s imagery is surreal: the tigers are “bright topaz” in “a world of green”. They demand attention. In addition, they are dauntless and indomitable. They are fearless in the face of the “men beneath the tree”. They have “sleek chivalric certainty.”

Aunt Jennifer stands in sharp contrast to her tigers in the second quatrain. Her fingers barely flutter through the wool. Her hands are weighed down, almost stilled even, by the great weight of “Uncle’s wedding band.” This weight, of course, is metaphorical and, by that virtue, arguably even more oppressive. She is chained to one very special role in a marriage that the speaker refers to not even as her own, but as “Uncle’s”.

The third quatrain begins describing how Aunt Jennifer’s hands will “lie” when she dies “still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by”. The word ‘lie’ could have various interpretations. Perhaps her hands are finally lying still. Perhaps she is buried with her ring, and her hands portray a false image of her marriage. While these possibilities could be analyzed in greater detail, the final two lines of the poem hold greater significance.

In Rich’s last quatrain, the speaker concludes, “The tigers in the panel that she made will go on prancing, proud and unafraid”. These lines are often interpreted as a silver lining to the story, or as some sort of redemption. The speaker seems to indicate that Aunt Jennifer – the true, free Aunt Jennifer – lives on in her creations and finally finds expression in them. In some small way, they save her.

Despite this common interpretation of the significance of Aunt Jennifer’s tigers, I believe there is another way to understand this metaphor that drives home Rich’s concern with sexism and disempowerment even more. What if the tigers represented not Aunt Jennifer’s saving grace, but rather her oppressors? What if the tigers were not part of the redemption, but part of the problem? If the tigers represented men, or perhaps even a society governed by the patriarchy, the themes of the poem would come across even stronger. Unlike Aunt Jennifer, the tigers have nothing to fear from “the men beneath the tree” because they are men themselves. And they continue on oppressing others yet maintain in false certainty that their actions are “sleek” chivalry. When Aunt Jennifer is finally dead after years of oppression, the tigers “go on prancing, proud and unafraid”. They don’t care. They are proud, and unafraid that any power dynamics will change.

— Rachel Campbell ’18


Rich, Adrienne. “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers.” University of Pennsylvania, Web.

[For more by Adrienne Rich, her collected poems may be found for purchase here: ]

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

— William Wordsworth

In this poem, William Wordsworth goes on a journey to see the beauty of the world. He ventures alone and truly immerses himself in his surroundings. This is a kind of journey that William has to go on alone. If he was with others, he would not take the time to enjoy the beauty. William may feel pressured to engage in a conversation, he may be pressured to move through the scenery at a faster pace in order to satisfy the companions on the journey with him. Through solitude he is able to wander as a cloud, strolling along through life and enjoying its seemingly endless wonders.

The setting around William gives him golden writing material as a poet. The calming atmosphere allows him to be one with his thoughts. He is able to think about the golden daffodils in such an elaborate manner as they are his companion on his journey outdoors. The rhyming is consistent with every line or every other line. I enjoy this poem because I can truly envision the picture William paints within his poetry. This poem does a great job of highlighting the little things in life such as daffodils; the speaker goes into great detail analyzing the beauty of daffodils. If someone wants to get the most out of life, then they should take the time to admire the little things and get the most out of them.

I would argue the themes of the poem are nature and the writer’s memory of it. He highlights the beauty of the outside world. The happiness of his life has increased due to exploring nature, laying in the daffodils, and taking in his surroundings. William’s poem presents his detailed memory of his adventure wandering lonely as a cloud. His memories are vivid and truly showcase his descriptive abilities as a writer. The plot is simple but that is what makes the poem great. He is able to make something so simple as daffodils into a once in a lifetime beauty that fills his heart with pleasure and allowed him to truly enjoy the bliss of solitude.

In my opinion, the poem stands out because of the playful descriptions of the daffodils. An example is when he says “Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance”. In this quote, the reader can envision thousands of little flowers swirling in the wind. The pedals dancing in a multitude of directions without a care in the world. It seems as if the flowers are celebrating the beauty of nature and thus continuing William’s journey of being one with the outdoors. Overall, I would recommend this poem as a way to encourage people to adventure outside, take solo journeys, and embrace the little things such as the daffodils around them.

— Bryce Zaremby ’18


Wordsworth, William. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” Poetry Foundation.  Web.

[For more by Wiliam Wordsworth, his collected poetry can be found for purchase here:]