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End Of The World


The End of the World, by Billy Collins



It is a subject so profound I feel I should
be underwater to think about it properly.
In the most popular version the sky explodes
and horsemen gallop out of the flaming clouds,
pale and bloody, their cloaks flying wickedly.
The disconcerting poetry of Revelations describes
their iron breastplates as being blue as hyacinths.

I have no trouble imagining the oceans boiling away
like forgotten tea water and olive groves turning to ash.
I can even see the wheels revolving within wheels,
the mouths of furnaces, and a scarlet beast carrying
the whore of Babylon. I can hear the annunciatory trumpets
and the groans of those who seek death and find it not.

But here in the calm latitudes of this room
I am thinking that the end could be less operatic.
Maybe a black tarpaulin, a kind of boat cover,
could be lowered over the universe one night.
A hand could enter the picture and crumple the cosmos
into a ball of paper and hook it into a waste basket.
A gigantic door might close. A horrible bell could ring.
We could have fire, ice, bang and whimper all at once.

But who has the time to consider such horrors
when the world's body keeps pressing up against us
with the weight of its beauty, its dizzying sea cliffs
and coasting birds, its rolling fairways and deep pine woods?

Who could imagine all this coming to an end
but the lone visionary we always picture
on a street corner, gaunt, bearded, holding up
the sign that bears the news he cannot keep
to himself: the last headline, the final announcement.

Was it once enough for him to sense the smaller endings?
To know from the way someone combs her hair
one morning that the end of love is near;
to tell by the way the chords make the turn for home
that the end of the song is fast approaching;
or to realize by the tone of afternoon light
that the end of this very day is at hand,
my brethren, and that the summer trees and clouds
will never be blown quite the same way again.


Here's a version you can download: Now it is me down on the floor lettering my sign, proclaiming that daylight is draining out of the sky. This is the message I will carry down the gauntlets of the city, my eyes hollow like those of the dungeoned, the shipwrecked. Soon it will be evening, and a fuller darkness will descend, just as I have prophesied, and then, according to my warnings, we will behold the starry-eyed messiah of the night.


Download The_End_of_the_World.rtf