At a lecture by the poet, Jack Gilbert, years ago, he said that an editor had once advised him that perhaps his poems had big endings too often. I’m intrigued by that criticism. “The Great Fires” is a masterful book of poetry. I carried it in my backpack for years, and read some of those poems thousands of times. They fold back on themselves, the endings transfiguring everything that has come before. The narratives are mundane, philosophical, informed with the marvel of dailiness. They are meditations on grief, and meditations on love, and strangely, those two experiences are interwoven so that you cannot see the difference between them, which has always felt right to me.
I enjoy the anti-climax. Patrick O’Brian, I think, did this better than anyone. The big naval battle took place some 100 pages before the end of the book. The story of the men, the struggle to command, the terror and bliss that is seafaring, these were the stories of his books, and the wild fights and adventure happened along the way. He wrote in the anti-climax: all the life that is built around the pivotal orgasm—the necessary reveal—the climax.
Are these two things connected? The big ending, and the anti-climax? Gilbert layers his poems, so that you feel like you are climbing upward as you read them—scrambling a scaffold. Gilbert and O’Brian both narrate in the anti-climax, the human struggle to build and thrive. It’s a scale, is all. Heroism, yes, myth and allegory. The epic rages around us as we carry on with the business of living.