Monday, May 18, 2009

Endpoint by John Updike

There is something heartbreaking about Endpoint and Other Poems (Knopf), the last John Updike book that will ever be published under the guidance of the author’s own hand. It seems to me he likely understood that the book would be heartbreaking and that, perhaps, he even wanted that. Even if that is the case, that doesn’t decrease the power of this, his final gift to us.

Updike wrote the poems collected here in the last seven years of his life, then put the book together in the weeks before his death earlier this year.

The book begins with the title work, “Endpoint,” which is actually a series of connected poems he wrote on various birthdays. It concludes with the author dealing with his own end as it became apparent that the disease he struggled with would take him.
Mild winter, then a birthday burst of snow.
A faint neuralgia, flitting tooth-root to
Knee and shoulder-joint, a vacant head,
Too many friendly wishes to parry,
Too many cakes. Oh, let the years alone!
They pile up if we manage not to die,
Glass dollars in the bank, dry pages on
The shelf. The boy I was no longer smiles
Interestingly, John Updike’s first book, The Carpentered Hen, published in 1958, was a collection of poetry. How fitting, then, that a book of poetry should also be his last.


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