Throughout this piece, readers will encounter examples of figurative language that make this poem a pleasure to read. The poet uses a metaphor to depict her period as a woman arriving in a red dress and describes her emotions through an image of grandmothers looking at photos of their younger selves. ‘to my last period’ is an incredibly effective poem that taps into one of the most important and universal themes a writer can engage with—growing old.
Explore to my last period
‘to my last period’ by Lucille Clifton is a short and impactful poem about going through menopause and a woman’s lost youth.
The speaker spends the lines of ‘to my last period’ addressing her period and wishing it farewell as she has it for the last time. She’s had it for thirty-seven years, and it’s brought her trouble every time. But, despite this, it’s clear that she’s feeling mournful at the prospect of it ending. It represents a time in her life that she’s never going to return to. Her youth is in her past, and now she has to face what comes next. The second half of the poem brings in an image of a grandmother looking at her own photo, recalling how beautiful she used to be. This sorrowful image is used as a way of depicting how the speaker feels as she wishes farewell to her period.
You can read the full poem here.
well, girl, goodbye,
after thirty-eight years.
In the first lines of ‘to my last period,’ the speaker begins by addressing her period. She calls it “girl” and tells it “goodbye.” She’s had it for thirty-eight years, and now that it’s gone, she’s marking the transition in her life. Every time her period arrived, she notes, it brought with it “trouble for [her].” Despite this, there is nostalgia in these lines. It is less direct at the bodily function itself and more at what this time in her life represents. Going through menopause, she’s considering what her life was like before and what it’s going to be like now.
Readers should note the use of a clever metaphor in the first stanza in which the speaker depicts her period as a woman in a red dress.
now it is done,
and i feel just like
beautiful? wasn’t she beautiful?
In the second stanza, the poet continues to avoid using capital letters. She also explores how she feels now that “it is done” or now that her period is over. It’s left her feeling “just like / the grandmothers” who look at photos of themselves when they were younger. They know that youth wasn’t their brightest period (seen through the use of the word “hussy”), but they admire their image and say, “wasn’t she / beautiful?” There’s a great deal of sadness in these lines that can’t be avoided. The speaker is mourning for a time that’s never going to come again and that she can’t do anything to retrieve. Youth is in the past, and she’s now embarking on a new chapter of her life.
Structure and Form
‘to my last period’ by Lucille Clifton is a two-stanza poem that is separated into sets of seven lines. These lines are written in free verse. This means that they do not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. This is common within Clifton’s poetry, as is the fact that she does not capitalize any of the words in the title of her poem. Despite the fact that this poem is written in free verse, readers will still be able to find some examples of structure and even some instances of rhyme.
Throughout this poem, Clifton makes use of several literary devices. They include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza and well as lines two and three of the second stanza.
- Apostrophe: occurs when the poet addresses someone or something that cannot hear the words or cannot understand them. In this case, the poet’s speaker, who is Clifton herself, is talking to her last period.
- Repetition: can be seen when the poet uses and reuses the same word, image, phrase, or structure within a poem. For example, the repetition of “beautiful” at the end of stanza two and “thirty-eight” in stanza one.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “somewhere, somehow” in the first stanza and “hussy” and “holding” in stanza two.
The meaning is that when one’s period is over, and one starts the process of menopause, it can be a powerful and mournful time in one’s life. The speaker is certainly mourning the youth she once had and that she can no longer reclaim.
The purpose is to explore the transition into menopause that women go through. The poet was hoping to highlight the impact of this change and relate it to the broader changes from youth to adulthood to one’s later life.
The tone in this piece is nostalgic and mournful. The speaker is talking to her last period but, more broadly, addressing her lost youth. She’s never going to be able to retrieve this time of her life, and that’s something that saddens her.
Clifton engages with themes of loss and youth in this poem. She knows that an important time in her life is over, and now, with her last period, she’s looking into a future that’s quite different.
Readers who enjoyed ‘to my last period’ should also consider reading some other Lucille Clifton poems. For example:
- ‘oh antic God’ – explores the yearning for a lost parent, the speaker remembers her mother and expresses a desire to return to the past.
- ‘good times’ – discusses the small, wonderful things that make for “good times”.
- ‘homage to my hips’ – takes on an empowering attitude towards the speaker’s body, expressing love and appreciation for her “big hips” and their power.