Epilogue: The Power of Subverted Expectations

Our piece for this week is Epilogue by Matt Haupert, which is a poem from the spring edition of Periphery 50. This piece can be found both under the Story of the Week tab and in Periphery’s online archives.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the course of this past year, it’s that life never goes the way you expect it to. Fortunately, not only does Epilogue by Matt Haupert provide advice on dealing with life’s unexpected moments, but it also demonstrates the power of expectation subversion as a literary device.

The piece accomplishes this in several ways. First of all, its title is an expectation subversion in and of itself. Mirriam-Webster defines the term “epilogue” as “a concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work”; as such, we might expect this poem to convey a feeling of finality. Instead, however, it encourages readers to both look and move forward. This bit of irony is likely why the editorial staff of Periphery 50 chose to put Epilogue at the beginning of the edition, rather than at the end.  

In addition to bending the expectations established by its title, Epilogue also plays with the meanings behind several popular phrases. For example, most of us have heard the saying, “if you fall down, get back up.” In engaging with this saying, Epilogue takes “getting back up” as a given and adds “I hope you brought a piece of the earth/back up with you.” Not only does this addition make the platitude more visceral, but it also asserts that falling down can change you for the better, should you choose to take from the experience.

The lines “if you get lost/I hope you call it home” further expand on Epilogue’s proposed method of dealing with failure. Just as we all know what to do when we fall down, we also know what to do when we get lost: find our way back to familiar ground. However, Epilogue claims that sometimes, the only way to find home is by getting lost in the first place. As someone who’s had some of her best adventures while lost, I highly relate to this idea.

Clearly, Epilogue subverts our expectations in unusual—and perhaps even unsettling—ways. So why do we follow along with the piece’s ideas? Why do we continue to read the poem, and perhaps even agree with it? The answer lies in the trust established between us and the narrator. Objectively, we know almost nothing about the narrator of Epilogue—we don’t know their name, their gender, or even their age. Yet from the very first stanza, the narrator reassures us that we are trustworthy by speaking to us without judgment. “It does not matter to me,” the narrator claims, “if you never/made it to the top of the world”—you are still worthy of “unpack[ing] the weight/that drags your shoulders back to the earth.” Such open-hearted acceptance is rather difficult to find nowadays, so it’s no wonder that we trust the person who provides it—at least enough to follow them through the rest of the poem’s unexpected twists.

Altogether, Epilogue demonstrates the power of the unexpected, both in our writing and in real life. More specifically, it shows that subverting expectations can captivate reader interest and strengthen a piece, and that unexpected events can improve our lives if we choose to lean into them. Furthermore, Epilogue suggests that the companionship of a trusted individual can make unexpected situations easier to handle. So lean into life’s chaos, and don’t forget to take a friend with you!

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