“The Final Stroke,” by Peter G. Epps (published in the Penwood Review, November 2003), is interesting in that, more than any poem I have seen recently it keeps strictly to the Petrarchan requirement that the sextet be able to stand on its own as a separate poem. The theme seems to be rejection and loss, especially that which is (or seems to be) a product of one’s own actions. It also has a strong feeling of death and judgment as well. The connection between the two seems to be that realization of the former occurs in the process of the latter.

There are several phrases that evoke particularly poignant and enjoyable images. “Too numb to rest,” is one. The opposite would seem more likely to be true, yet this rings solid and perfect. One is numbed by not resting. I love the transposition of imagery that occurs between the octet and the sextet. The octet ends with an apparent death, a “clotted brain.” The broken vessel of the opening line of the sextet, is then initially read as a blood vessel, and thus is tied inextricably to the woman. This sets up a concrete metaphoric relationship between the woman herself and the vessel which has just dropped from her lifeless hands.

Another nice juxtaposition of nomenclature occurs in the penultimate line (which is also wonderful sonically speaking), when her betrayals are made of clay, a traditional medium for dishes. Although the abstraction of the sextet gets to be a little too much toward the end, it was still a wonderful and enjoyable exploration of the transformation of death, a questioning of what lies just beyond and a suggestion that our assumptions may be turned on their heads.

One thought on “Poetry: ‘The Final Stroke’

  1. Robert,
    Thanks for the too-kind remarks. I’ll avoid trying to “explain” the poem–poets often make hash of their work trying to “prose” them sensibly. I’m really happy you focussed on the clot/vessel linkage at the octave/sestet boundary; it was the opening line and that turn that made me “keep” the poem, despite the abstraction of the ending. I try *never* to capitalize an abstract noun, but felt it was called for, here. Two hints: (1) it’s actually not abstract, but personal; (2) there’s a reason her “clay betrayals” are revealed in a “potter’s field” when she looks at a “naked Truth.” The last line remains a bit of a riddle even in my own head; from the standpoint of my life here and now, I have to be a bit elliptical about “what became of her.” She’s not asking me, though. –Cheers, PGE

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