‘Long Finish’ by Paul Muldoon is a ten stanza pom that is separated into sets of eight lines, also known as octaves. Muldoon chose to structure this piece with a consistent rhyme scheme. It follows the pattern of ABABCDCD, alternating end sounds in each stanza as the poet saw fit.
Additionally, one should take note of the form of ‘Long Finish’ itself. It is a “ballade,” which originated from French songs of the Renaissance and earlier medieval times. Muldoon changed the traditional pattern of the ballade by creating one refrain which ends all odd numbered stanzas and a different one that ends all even numbered stanzas.
In order to make this piece as humorous as possible, Muldoon has made great use of enjambment. The lines are of varying lengths, often times cut off before a natural stopping point. Another aspect of this piece which becomes clear almost immediately is the fact that there is no constant narrative. It has been written in the Post Modern style, with a range of images, some connected and some seemingly random. This is only made more poignant through his use of ‘stream of consciousness.’
Summary of Long Finish
‘Long Finish’ begins with the speaker reminiscing on his marriage. It happened underneath
pine boughs, an image which will come back up in the poem a number of times. They’ve been together for ten years, through ups and downs. He still feels a great deal of desire for his wife and makes this clear though suggestions of her shedding her clothes mentions of her waist and neckline.
As the poem continues on, he jumps to a short narrative describing the deaths of two different people in Northern Ireland. ‘Long Finish’ moves on to a shoreline which is the setting for the Noh poem, Matsukaze. There are constant references to an unending future continuation and a place between “longing and loss.” Different characters inhabit this place, and at the end of the poem the speaker describes how he and his wife pass through it on their way to forever “and then some”.
You can read the poem Long Finish in full here.
Analysis of Long Finish
In the first stanza of ‘Long Finish’ the speaker begins by stating that it has been ten years since he married his wife. When they were married it occurred underneath a wedding canopy, or chuppah. The chuppah was untraditional in the sense that it was natural, made by “pine boughs.”
It was there they exchanged their vows and desserts. There was “marchpane” or marzipan, as well as “Simi Chardonnay.” It was as “decent” as was possible, and even a little more. So far, it seems as though this day was perfect. The setting, the food and drinks, it all came together without problem.
This stanza end with the phrase “and then some.” This is the first of two refrains used by Muldoon. The second appears at the end of all even numbered lines.
In the second stanza the speaker asks that the reader “bear with [him],” or stick by him as he makes a turn in the narration. The speaker’s tone changes dramatically in these lines. Rather than describing the events of his marriage lovingly, he analyzes the wine and its properties. It has “hints of plum and pear” as well as “muscadine.” The speaker’s words are sophisticated but unavoidably pretentious. They also contrast significantly with the first stanza which seemed to be in touch with real emotions and meaningful events.
In the follow lines he goes on to state that he has other things on his mind besides the wine. He has proven his knowledge about it, and is ready to focus on something else, his wife’s “breast” and “waist.” She is to him the epitome of desire. Just as the first stanza ended with the phrase “and then some,” This stanza ends with “between longing and loss.” This same phrase will appear at least three more times before the poem ends.
In the third stanza the speaker makes an interesting comparison between the longevity of his relationship and “the Dow.” This reference in the second line is to the Dow Jones stock market index. He wonders in amazement over the fact that they have been together for long and weathered all the stones of “marriage and parenthood” for the past ten years. There have been highs and lows, or as he calls them “summits and…sloughs.”
The speaker describes their years of marriage as “almond-blossomy.” This connects back to the act of marriage in that almond blossoms can usually be found somewhere within the bridal party. Again, he emphasizes the fact that the years have been filled with “rapture” and “rows.” These words are emphasized and turned into oxymorons through the use of adjectives, “bitter” and “blissful” in opposite locations.
The final line of the stanza uses the refrain first seen at the end of stanza one, “and then some.” In this case though the line does not end with punctuation. It is enjambed, meaning it trails off into the next stanza, as does the right side of the parenthetical.
Between the third stanza and the fourth the reader becomes aware that the relationship has lasted for ten years, and “then some.” The extra “some” includes the “one or two” years that the couple knew one another and were “firmly on cloud nine.” This was a period of engagement or perhaps just friendship.
The following lines (including stanza five) are a perfect example of the Post Modernist style Muldoon makes use of. His speaker jumps from thought to thought (like a stream of consciousness narrative). He looks to his wife and sees her “one bare / shoulder” as well as the “veer of [her] neckline.” These familiar sights are joined and contrasted by the “eczema patch.”
The next lines are somewhat complicated and hold a significance to the poem that is hard to grasp. He speaks on “the Schloss” or castle, that is not brought to mind by the eczema patch. This place, which is perhaps in Trieste, a city in Italy, is “transitory.” This is likely a reference to his memory of the place. Maybe he and his wife visited the city and now he sees it as a marker between “longing and loss.” This would relate it back to the ups and downs of his own marriage.
The fifth stanza of ‘Long Finish’ is filled with more vague references. He mentions the “hip trench in a field” which is covered by the same kind of “boughs” as were present at the beginning of the poem. In this area there are “two men in masks and hoods.” It is clear that the stetting is quite different from where the poem started. He has moved locations to somewhere that seems to be a war-zone. The land was in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. This is made clear through the reference to “Beragh and Sixmilecross” in stanza six.
The men who are waiting in masks and hoods have “taken vows.” It is unclear to whom these vows were made. Perhaps it was to a military leader of some kind or to God. They are both waiting for a “farmer to break a bale for his cows.” When this happens they are going to begin firing their “semi- / automatics.” The assailants plan to kill the farmer, cutting “him off slightly above the eyebrows.” The stanza ends with the now haunting refrain, “and then some.”
A reader should continue to take note of the different ways that “and then some” and “between longing and loss” are used by Muldoon. Just two stanzas ago “and then some” referred to the happy years of his life, now it is connected to the brutal death of a farmer. The speaker’s tone is cool. He does not seem at all troubled by the death he’s describing.
The sixth stanza presents the reader with another death. The talk of the farmer’s murder brought to mind “another.” This other person was also in the fields, “driving out… / white-faced kine” or cows. The man is soon to discover the “precise whereabouts of a land mind.” This is a clearly flippant way to describe someone’s death and is meant to show how unmoved by trauma the speaker is.
The death is going to take place “between Beragh and Sixmilecross,” two towns in Northern Ireland. This man, once dead, will have crossed over “the line / between longing and loss.”
The seventh stanza brings the reader to Japan. In the sixth line the speaker mentions “Matsukaze (or Pining Wind) by Zeami.” This is a kind of Japanese play known as “Noh.” It is a musical type of performance that has been popular since the 14th century. One of its main developers was the writer Zeami.
The specific play the speaker describes is one of the most popular of the Noh plays. The main characters are the “two sisters” who spent their days ladling brine to make salt. This makes sense of the reference to the “constant douse and souse / of salt water” in lines four and five. These words, “douse and souse” are onomatopoeic, meaning they sound like their meaning. The water is sloshing onto the women’s sleeves.
The sister are experiencing a grief that, although different from the previous two stanzas, is still relatable. They are depressed over their status with a specific courtier. The phrases, “‘there, theres’” and “‘now, nows’” are meant to be words of comfort they share with one another.
In the eight stanza Muldoon makes some connections between the various narratives. The wind blows around the two women and provides them with a similar comfort. There is no choice for the sisters but to continue “boiling down brine.” They must deal with the “dolor” or sorrow, of their lives and move on. It is interesting to connect the salt present on their clothes to the tears they are most certainly crying.
The lines become even more connected with “the double mean of “pine’.” It is the same in English and Japanese. The word comes across as a tree and as “the sense we assign / between “longing and loss.”
The ninth stanza remains with the two sisters and “the poet-couteir” with named “Yukihira.” He is responsible for wooing both of the sisters and appears to them amongst the “pin boughs.” Here again the pine trees are present and the word “pine” is used for both its meanings. The speaker explores the various meanings of the word in line two. Then connects together all the different vows he as thus far explored.
There is the vow made by “Autumn Rain and Pining Wind” in the Noh play. Then there is also the vow between the speaker and his wife, then finally that of the fighters in Northern Ireland. At this point the speaker turns back to his wife and her skin. Just as these vows were being made/renewed, her blouse slipped and reveals that the eczema path is “all-but-cleared-up.”
The last stanza is directed towards the speaker’s wife, referred to as “Princess of Accutane.” These lines have two different connections, and it is clear the speaker meant for a reader to understand them as humorous. “Accutane” sounds like the name “Aquitaine,” the title of Eleanor of Aquitaine, as well as the medicine “accutane” (an eczema treatment).
In the following lines the speaker brings in a number of different phrases seen in previous stanzas. He uses “good thou” once more, as well as “rouse” which connects to the “sous[ing]” of the sea. The speaker adds in the refrain “between longing and loss” in the middle of the stanza.
‘Long Finish’ ends with the speaker asking that they no longer try to separate themselves from one another. “Mine and thine” has no meaning. Instead, they should “rouse” themselves every morning with as much “force and fervour” as they can manage, “and then some.” This concludes the poem optimistically, despite the dark turn it took towards the middle of the text. The speaker sees himself continuing on with his wife far into the future.