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This report is taken from PN Review 131, Volume 26 Number 3, January - February 2000.

Last Poems Andrew Shields

Seamus Heaney's essay 'Yeats as an Example?' ends with a brief discussion of the last poem in Yeats' Collected Poems. However, at this point in his essay, he does not cite the lines from 'Under Ben Bulben' which actually close that volume:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

Instead of these lines which Yeats wrote for his tombstone, Heaney cites the poem he would have put last, 'Cuchulain Comforted', with its quite different conclusion, in which ghosts comfort Cuchulain with their singing: 'They had changed their throats and had the throats of birds.' For Heaney, this poem 'full of a motherly kindness toward life' would be a more fitting capstone for Yeats' work than the epitaph of the 'male and assertive' 'Under Ben Bulben'.

In Sylvia Plath's Collected Poems, the manuscript dates for the last two poems, 'Balloons' and 'Edge', are the same: 5 February 1963. Editing the volume, Ted Hughes put 'Balloons' first and thus closed the part of the book dedicated to Plath's mature work with 'Edge', with its justly famous opening:

The woman is perfected.
Her dead

Body wears a smile of accomplishment.

What has come to be known as Plath's last poem begins with this 'perfected' woman, a seeming anticipation of the poet's suicide six days later, and ends with these lines about a distant and jaded moon, more reminiscent of ...

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