The Last Time

Howe, Marie

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa
  • Date of entry: Nov-25-1998


This brief poem describes a revelatory conversation the speaker has with her dying brother "The last time we had dinner together in a restaurant . . . ." Her brother takes her hands into his, and asks if she really understands that he will die soon. The speaker assures him that she does, hinting at an inner acceptance the brother questions. He then turns the tables on her (and on the reader) by suggesting that what she really needs to accept is that she herself will die someday--and that until she understands this, she cannot really comprehend the reality of his dying.


As for most poems, a prosaic summary cannot convey the quiet power of this poem. In the chilling Philip-Larkin-like twist at the end, we recognize again that accepting the death of others, even those that we love, is easy compared to accepting that the same fate awaits us. For medical students, this might be a powerful reminder of why they might recoil from dying patients--not because they can't bear the patient's pain, but because they (perhaps) cannot bear their own.

Primary Source

What the Living Do


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York