Love After Love, Derek Walcott – an Analysis

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Title
… is this going to be some ode to how it’s so common to love someone, lose them, love another, lose them, in a cycle of getting over people and falling for someone new?

Gut Reaction
Ah, no! It’s better! It’s about learning to love yourself!

What does it all mean?
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

In time, probably not now since you’re still full of insecurities and self-doubts, you’ll be happy to see yourself. You’ll be happy to be in your own company and you’ll smile when you see your reflection rather than grimace.

and say, sit here. Eat.
You’ll…nourish yourself?
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

You’ve probably forgot yourself along the way as you’ve loved others. You are a stranger to yourself and you deserve this nourishment. You deserve to put your heart back where it belongs -in you.

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.

Again – you put yourself aside for all the other people you’ve loved, you, who is the one person who really, knows you best and deserves the best from you. The person that’s always been there for you (and will always be there for you).
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
So all those mementos that you kept from lovers past, they don’t need to be displayed anymore.

the photographs, the desperate notes,
More of the same you don’t need those memories now. Forget the pain of them.
peel your own image from the mirror.
Does this mean… appreciate what you see in the mirror? Replace all those photographs and letters with the image of you – because you really should have loved yourself all along? Take you at face value – you are you, and you are who you should concentrate on now.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Sit – relax. Enjoy, revel, gorge yourself on all the good things in your life.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
We have four stanzas of different lengths of free verse.

Tone
Loving. Almost as though the author is coming home to the realisation that loving yourself first is the most important love of all, and every other love will follow from that.

Suggested rhyme scheme
Free verse.

Similes and metaphors
There’s an underlying metaphor of eating here – so perhaps we’re meant to consume life rather than have life consume us. After all the woes of heartbreak experienced along the way of a person’s life, doesn’t this sound like a good thing to do for yourself?

Author’s relationship with their subject
Loving. Nurturing. Wanting to give comfort.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
Self acceptance and self love are what we need most, and what we neglect most.
The wine and bread could be reference to a Christian upbringing as experienced by the author themselves – so perhaps we could say here that after loving yourself, find love in religion or whatever it is you believe in?

Signing off
It’s true, isn’t it? When we fall in love with another, or even when we care or another if we’re not ready for that big scary word of love, we do tend to forget ourselves. We forget our needs, wants, desires. We learn to dislike ourself, be critical, raise our image to what we think the person we love will want us to be like. All the time neglecting who we need to be for ourselves.
Loving yourself… it’s hard, isn’t it? Hard when you’ve had lifelong lessons of not loving yourself, harsh criticism, snide remarks, or just offhand comments from others can make you forget that you have to be your number one priority. Let’s not even get started on those who are just vindictively cruel for the sake of it.
Even when you think you’re putting yourself first in a relationship – are you? Are you getting from it what you need? Possibly. But does that mean you’re loving yourself in the process or just getting a part of something that you want?
Learning to care for yourself, learning to love you, it sounds, in theory, an easy task. But there’s no way on this earth that it is. Even if you’ve grown up in the most loving of environments, even if you’ve luckily avoided all the bad relationships out there and found sanctuary with people who truly love you for you. Even then, you can forget yourself a little.
So perhaps the underlying message of this poem is, in the most unselfish of ways… love yourself first. How can you not?

Links

According to a Marie Claire interview, this is the poem that makes Tom Hiddleston cry. This is Tom reading it. Sob!

Wikipedia

Poetry Foundation

When I read this I think of the song… Watch Over You. It makes sense. Honest. There’s a line that goes how can you love someone and not yourself? See? Perfect sense.

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